The University of New Mexico’s Optical Science and Engineering program recently celebrated 40 years of graduate education in optics with two days of lectures, lab tours, student poster presentations and more.

The OSE Program is jointly administered by the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Department of Physics and Astronomy and offers master’s degrees and Ph.D.s in optical science, with concentrations offered in optical science, photonics, quantum optics, and imaging. Since its inception, the program has graduated more than 270 Ph.D. and M.S. students and developed close working relationships with Sandia National Labs, Los Alamos National Labs and the Air Force Research Lab. 

The program is comprised of leaders Daniel Feezell, OSE general chair and Jean-Claude Diels, OSE Program co-chair, Doris Williams, senior academic advisor, and more than 50 Ph.D. and M.S. students.

“The OSE Program is unique because it is a cross-college interdisciplinary program, administered by departments in the School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences. That brings a real interdisciplinary flavor to our program,” Daniel Feezell, professor and general chair of the OSE Program, said. “Many of our alumni are working currently in the optics industry in New Mexico and the national labs. We have other alumni who have gone on to obtain academic jobs either post-doctoral researcher positions or a faculty position.”

Ganesh Balakrishnan speaks at an OSE Anniversary event.

Ganesh Balakrishnan, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the director of New Mexico EPSCoR, earned his Ph.D. from the OSE Program and spoke at the anniversary’s opening events about the impact the program has had on New Mexico.

“The vision people had in creating such a program is truly breathtaking when 40 years ago optics was not as commercially relevant as it is today. These centers and programs were created a long time ago and have served the state incredibly well,” Balakrishnan said. “We sort of have a terrarium, a self-contained ecosystem, in Albuquerque. We have our University, we have our national labs and we have our own industry, all of which are very prominent in optics.”

The program has also made significant contributions to the state’s economy and UNM’s portfolio of inventions. Faculty involved with OSE have developed 209 patents and those inventions have led to 12 start-ups and generated $42 million in license income for the University.

“UNM Rainforest Innovations has had a wonderful partnership with many of the inventors that are part of the program over the years and it is a key part of the Rainforest Innovations portfolio of technology and patents, so those technologies related to work done by faculty, staff, students, and postdocs affiliated with OSE plays an important role in our economy and the translation of research results into benefits to the public,” Elizabeth Kuutila, CEO and chief economic development officer of UNM Rainforest Innovations, said.

The impact of the program stretches far beyond the boundaries of the state or its economy, however, and the ultimate measure of the program’s success is how effectively it serves its students. To that end, it has performed exceptionally through the efforts of longtime faculty and staff, and even received accolades in a recent academic review, according to Maria Lane, UNM dean of academic programs.

In the review, the OSE Program was noted to have excellent student recruitment, outstanding job placement, and great potential for continued growth, Lane said.

The success of alumni was made further evident by the anniversary’s event lineup. Scott Diddams, a graduate of the OSE Program and professor of physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, presented a seminar and physics colloquium during the anniversary events. Diddams studied Optical Science at UNM in the 1990s under Professor and OSE Co-Chair Jean-Claude Diels.

“I learned a lot about different types of laser technologies and laser science that really launched my career when I moved to Colorado as a post-doc and in fact, I still draw from some of those same ideas and things I learned here at UNM now almost twenty, thirty years later,” Diddams said. “I’ve been able to take things like lasers, laser tools, and designs that I learned at UNM and apply them to research in completely new ways.”

The OSE program, founded in 1983, delayed its 40th anniversary by one year following the death of its longtime chair, Mansoor Sheik-Bahae, who passed away last summer.

Top image: Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, Barbara Rodriguez, presents Daniel Feezell with a certificate of achievement celebrating OSE's 40 years of academic and research excellence in education.