Dr. Hannah Grant on Opportunities and Challenges in Silicon Photonics

This week we spoke with Dr. Hannah Grant, who completed her PhD at UCSD with a focus on photonics on silicon. We last spoke with Hannah about her prior research on optical switches. Today, Dr. Grant walks us through her dissertation, titled “Opportunities and Challenges in Silicon Photonics Systems”. In addition, Dr. Grant shares her outlook on the graduate process, advice for the job search, and where the future of optical communication may be.

As always, we thank our guest Dr. Hannah Grant look forward to our listeners comments!


Optical Switches



Lisa Li on Vision, Computer Science, and Culture

This week we spoke with Lisa Li, who is a Ph.D. student at the College of Optics as University of Arizona. She completed her MSc at Newcastle University, where her thesis, title ‘Colour constancy modelling with a biologically-inspired neural network structure’ was jointly done between the Computer Science and Neuroscience departments, under advisers Prof. Marcus Kaiser and Prof. Anya Hurlbert. Lisa briefly discussed her past work at Newcastle. Additionally, she comments about the cultural differences she witnessed between graduate schools, and some of the unique experiences she has encountered as a woman in the sciences. Lisa Li shed light on a fascinating field of science which we all have intuitively experienced and provides valuable insight on how to navigate a career in the sciences!


As always, we thank our guest Lisa Li and we eagerly look forward to our listeners comments!



Neural Network Links:

Basic Explanations:

For a more rigorous explanation:

Color Constancy Links:

Modrian Tile Links:

Aftab on using Chebyshev gradient polynomials for modal integration

In this weeks episode we sit down with Maham Aftab, who has an extensive background in the sciences as well as activism for a variety of causes. We discuss her most recent publication, in which she used Chebyshev gradient polynomials as a basis set for modal integration. She discusses the recursive nature of the polynomial set which allowed for her method to generate a high number of fitting polynomials. The integration’s ortho-normality is discussed, as well as its unique benefits and how it fits into the general universe of integration methods for slope data. Additionally, Maham speaks about her academic experience and her work in activism.



Aftab’s Paper:

Maham Aftab, James H. Burge, Greg A. Smith, Logan Graves, Chang-jin Oh, and Dae Wook Kim, “Modal Data Processing for High Resolution Deflectometry,” Int. J. of Precis. Eng. and Manuf.-Green Tech. (2018). (in press

Southwell Integration Paper: https://www.osapublishing.org/josa/abstract.cfm?uri=josa-70-8-998  


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Round Table 2: What is your reason for doing?

Image Source: Goldenretrieverbailey on Instagram: https://instagram.com/goldenretrieverbailey/?utm_source=ig_embed

In this round table we discuss the idea of equity and meaning behind a degree, specifically a higher education degree in optics (which I will come back to). The central question is whether or not there is a problem with the amount of work, or quality of work, behind the same degree between two people. It is assumed that this is an actual occurrence (with many anecdotal pieces of evidence offered). The conversation transitioned and two clear view points arose. On one hand, the idea that you determine the value of your degree, and outsiders values should not meaningfully impact your reason for a degree or how you go about achieving the degree. The counter view was that to some extent the college and its alumni affect one another, such as a alumni can promote or dissuade groups from hiring from your college or academic group, thus impacting your future employment. A final undercurrent throughout is the idea that there is some, undefined, threshold that students should achieve before they can graduate, although due to how hard it was to pin down this seems to be a likely culprit for why comprehensive exams, orals, and defenses are so hated; making a test that everyone agrees defines some threshold beyond which you are an expert is extremely difficult.
Finally, I realized after listening again we entirely missed the mark by considering a wider scope, namely, outside of higher education, or optics, etc. This topic bears coming back to which we will hopefully do soon.

Balagopal on Industry, Optics, and Mathematics

This week we sat down with Nirantha Balagopal to discuss her current work in industry at Edmund Optics. She also talked about her prior masters work at the University of Arizona as well as her studies in math and its ongoing application towards everyday life. For all of our optical engineers out there this is a really great episode, as Balagopal provides extremely interesting thoughts about the transition and difference from academics to industry and very practical tips to know when interfacing with an optical component provider to make your project more likely to succeed.


1) Balagopal’s Master Thesis

2) Momsom on SPECT Imaging

3) The ABCs of Fluency

4) SPIE Women in Optics Survey 2017

5) Society of Women Engineers

6) Edmund Optics Youtube for Tutorials and Lessons

Discuss, don’t Lecture-Optics Roundtable

'Flat Earth' (Image credit: NFCA Pictures / flickr)
‘Flat Earth’ (Image credit: NFCA Pictures / flickr)

This is the first optics roundtable conversation. The roundttable format is a new thing we are trying out, in which a group of scientists will gather over beers to discuss some interesting current topic in science. In this week’s episode Edward LaVilla and Neil Momson joined the conversation to discuss two interesting topics. First, what is the best approach to discussing science with someone who holds a view on some scientific topic that you deem to be irrational? Do you tell them they are wrong, scoff, lecture to them what you hold to be right? Edward LaVilla proposed engaging all people in a scientific conversation, holding all curious and engaged parties as equals, and only making a prerequisite demand that rational and honest ideas be presented and generally to hold a scientific conversation. Building off of this concept, we then moved on to discussing Aumannian conversations, and how we arrive at defending absolute truths and generally what science is.

Resources and Links from this Episode:
Common Knowledge and Aumann’s Agreement Theorem

Common Knowledge and Aumann’s Agreement Theorem

Are Disagreements Honest?

Edward LaVilla on Visual Optics, Inspiration, and the Spirit of Learning


In this episode we sit down with the extremely dynamic Edward LaVilla, who is working on obtaining his doctorate in optical engineering. His work focuses on visual optics, although he has done research in a variety of other sub-fields inside of optics. Further, he brings the unique perspective of an entrepreneur, participating in the McGuire Entrepreneurship program at the University of Arizona and starting a small business. This is easily one of the most exciting and thought provoking interview we have done and I hope our listeners will enjoy.


1) Ibn al-Haytham “The Father of Optics”: https://www.photonics.com/a36717/Before_Newton_there_was_Alhazen

2) Roorda Lab: http://roorda.vision.berkeley.edu/

3) Multmodal Retinal Imaging: https://www.amazon.com/Multimodal-Retinal-Imaging-Amresh-Chopdar/dp/1907816607

4)Statistical Model for Normal Eyes: http://iovs.arvojournals.org/article.aspx?articleid=2188017

Dr. Shuang Wu on Biostatistics


This week we spoke with Dr. Shuang Wu, who received his doctorate in research relating to embryonic stem cell work. He decided to slightly alter his research focus and began working on bio-statistics. Dr. Shuang Wu shares his insights on what bio-statistics means for the average person, the nuances in statistical work with applications in biological systems, and the ethical consequences of bio-statistics work in the real world.

Spencer on Podiatry


Daniel Spencer is a medical student who will be receiving his doctorate in podiatric medicine in May. This is an often overlooked field of medicine, which focuses on the foot, ankle, and lower leg area. Daniel sheds light on the field, current important topics in podiatry, as well as general insight and advice regarding medical school.

Episode Resources
1) Neuropathy
2) Ford on plasma research and nuclear engineering

Zafar on plasma diagnostics for nuclear fusion

Zafar in his lab
Zafar in lab working on his experimental setup.

This week we spoke with Abdullah Zafar, whose work focuses on diagnostics of plasma. Zafar discusses how optical spectroscopy can be used to study plasma effects and dynamics, which leads to a more robust understanding of plasma. There is some very interesting and cutting edge engineering at play in Zafar’s work, allowing him to attain extremely high resolution high accuracy spectroscopic results of scans of a plasma field in only two dimensions. Further, we discuss current and future plasma applications, graduate school, and Zafar shares words of advice for those considering or in the early stages of their research career.

References and Resources for this episode:

  1. ITER