Photonics Professor Trains Research Scientists to Solve Real-World Technology Challenges
May 8, 2017
Peter Delfyett, Ph.D., tries to show his graduate students how photonics, the science of light, is in every aspect of their lives. “Photonics is basically the science and understanding of light and how we interact with the universe, and how by using this light, we can come up with technologies to make the lives of all humanity better,” said Delfyett, a University Trustee Chair & Pegasus Professor of Optics & Photonics, ECE & Physics. Delfyett joined CREOL, the College of Optics & Photonics, in 1993. He is the director of the Townes Laser Institute and leads the Ultrafast Photonics research group.
Many of Delfyett’s students connect with him because he shows a genuine concern for their future and for learning the material. “I have this passion for what I do and I try to share that passion with them.” As a research professor, Delfyett also aims to prepare his students to be research scientists who can make an impact in industrial laboratories. To date, Delfyett has graduated 29 Ph.D. students. Many are working in areas such as industrial labs in Silicon Valley and at agencies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). “You want to give students the right career advice, because at the end of the day, you want them to walk away with the best experiences from being at UCF. That’s what you really want, because the students are our future.”
Research and the five M’s of photonics
When asked about his research work, Delfyett responded with “the five M’s,” saying that he and his team find ways to make, modulate, multiplex, move and measure light. Sometimes they work on light source technology for making new forms of light or come up with new technologies that focus on inserting information into light beams and then detecting or removing the information. Delfyett’s research group focuses on developing very fast photonic technologies that have applications in fiber optic communication and signal processing.
Delfyett recalled some of the performance records that he and graduate students at UCF have achieved, helping to establish CREOL as a leader in photonics research. The team was able to generate the world’s shortest optical pulse from a semiconductor laser and generate the world’s highest power from a semiconductor laser. They were also able to produce multiple colors from a semiconductor laser, put information on each color and transmit it. The technology can support laser-based radar, optical communications, optical search engines and other processes.
He calls his approach to research an “application pull” versus a “technology push.” He explained that with the “technology push” approach, a researcher works in a lab, creates a device, and then tries to shop it around to industry. In contrast, the “application pull” approach (which he imparts to his students) looks at the different real-world applications related to areas such as communications, computing or signal processing and asks: What are the bottlenecks that are preventing this technology from working better; that is, faster, more cost-effectively or in a more energy-efficient way?
“If I can solve those bottlenecks, then the people who are deploying these technologies are going to want to use my technology,” said Delfyett. “So I really try to identify the problems first, and then go into the research lab and come up with ‘widgets,’ which then, if I’m successful, will immediately be able to make an impact to those areas.”
Much of Delfyett’s research has led to numerous inventions; currently, he has contributed to 42 issued U.S. patents. One of those inventions was the first to combine the concept of using optical coherence tomography with spectral interferometry. In the 1990s, UCF colleague Jannick P. Rolland, Ph.D., was researching the use of optical coherence tomography (OCT), which is a diagnostic tool for imaging inside the eye and looking at the structure of the retinal areas within the eyeball. OCT allows doctors to see tissue surfaces, but its ability to look inside tissue to detect specific abnormalities or diseases is limited.
“So she was hoping to make it better, and I proposed that in addition to just having imaging technology, suppose we add some spectroscopic capability,” said Delfyett. “That way, they could view not only the surface of the tissue, but they could tell if cells were normal or abnormal by looking at how they absorb different colors of light.” Together, the researchers developed a tool for Imaging and Sensing Cervical and Skin Cancers. The tool is featured in support of Women’s Health Week.
Thanks to their groundbreaking work, many other researchers across the country now combine the use of optical coherence tomography with spectral interferometry. “We were the first to our knowledge to do this,” he said.
When asked about the future of photonics research and his career, Delfyett said, “It’s great! There’s something new every day. That’s why I love being a scientist. Because we are paid to learn, we are paid to create knowledge, and if you’re really doing your job, you are literally creating the new forefront.”
“I love what I do. I get to come to the lab and play; I get to be with young people. I get to experience their energies, their ideas, and I have the opportunity of putting them on career paths which will make their lives better for the future.”
Technology available for license
Additional technology solutions developed by Delfyett and colleagues are available for license and can be found here. To learn more about Delfyett’s research and additional potential licensing or sponsored research opportunities, contact John Miner at 407.882.1136.
By: Kathleen Snoeblen