Student Profile

Matthew Mills

Matthew Mills came to UCF after completing bachelor degrees in Physics and Optical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. One of his undergraduate professors recommended him to UCF’s Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers (CREOL) to continue his education in Optics. He is now studying in a nonlinear wave propagation group, working to complete his PhD in Optics.

Mills has always known that he wanted to work in the sciences. He is currently interested in studying diffractionless beams, filamentation, and multimode fibers. Mills enjoys the balance that exists in his research group at CREOL: being both structured and supportive. His mentor Dr. Christodoulides has, “an uncanny ability to instill the toolset needed for a powerful career in his students,” Mills said.  His recent work on filamentation and secondary “dress” lasers has enabled many possibilities, such as weather control. The results of this research have been published both in Nature Photonics and CBS News.

After his graduation in 2015, Mills plans on continuing his work on optics and engineering. He advises incoming graduate students to remember that “perseverance is necessary.”

Jeffrey Chiles

Jeff Chiles received his Bachelor's of Science in Electrical Engineering and Computer Engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology before coming to UCF. He always had an interest in optics, and became interested in the Center for Research and Education in Optics (CREOL) during an internship while pursuing his Bachelor’s degree.

Chiles states, “CREOL has a very friendly and positive atmosphere.” He enjoys the collaboration between various programs, such as Physics, Optics, Electrical Engineering and Materials Science. Currently, Chiles is involved in research with his advisor Dr. Sasan Fathpour in the Integrated Photonics and Energy Solutions (IPES) Lab. They focus on developing compact devices for manipulating light waves in the infrared. The goal is to create advanced, low-cost devices that can be used for laser surgery, long-distance data transmission and other uses.

After his anticipated graduation in 2016, Chiles plans on continuing his work in Optics and possibly leading a small technical research group. He recommends to other students that when they become stuck on an assignment or research, to remember to take time to step away from the computer.

Dana Kohlgraf-Owens

Dana Kohlgraf-Owens received her BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering from The Ohio State University. "What I love most about CREOL is that it's large enough to provide an incredibly diverse array of optics related research opportunities yet small enough that we form a close knit community with numerous formal and informal collaborations and social gatherings."

Eric Cunningham

Eric Cunningham earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in Physics at Brigham Young University where his advisor encouraged him to apply to the College of Optics and Photonics at UCF for his doctorate. His lifelong interest in math, science, and engineering led to a specific focus on physics and eventually optics. At UCF’s Institute for the Frontier of Attosecond Technology, Cunningham is involved in research to develop new laser sources and experimental techniques for observing the fastest quantum dynamics which proceed inside atoms and molecules.

For Cunningham, the best part of the program at CREOL is the emphasis on research and hands-on experience. He appreciates the many research-related skills he has acquired, such as working collaboratively, critiquing technical papers, and communicating research results. He also enjoys the sense of opportunity and excitement throughout UCF’s diverse community.

During his time at UCF, Cunningham was the recipient of a Graduate Dean’s Fellowship (2011), the Army Research Office Graduate Mentoring Fellowship (2013), and the Graduate Research Excellence Fellowship (2014). He plans to complete his doctorate in 2015.

Evan Hale

Evan Hale is a doctoral student in the Optics and Photonics program where he is able to pursue his passion for research in the areas of science and engineering. Before coming to UCF, Hale earned a BS in Optical Engineering at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana. CREOL’s reputation as an outstanding research facility in photonics and laser physics brought him to Orlando.

Currently, Hale is conducting research involving designing volume holographic elements (holographic gratings and phase masks) and their applications in laser resonators for beam control, manipulation, and enhancement with Leon Glebov, PhD in his Photoinduced Processing Lab. In February, Hale presented the first achromatic holographic phase mask with the use volume and surface gratings at Photonics West 2015 in San Francisco. He will continue working on this system as well as additional laser applications.

Following graduation, Hale will be seeking a career in Research and Development in the private sector or with the government. 

Amy Van Newkirk

Amy Van Newkirk became interested in the field of optics through summer internships while earning her BS in Physics at Grove City College. She enrolled in the Optics and Photonics PhD program in 2011. She appreciates the collaborative nature of the program and enjoys working with her advisor, Axel Schülzgen, PhD, as well as other experts in CREOL that have a lot of knowledge to share.

Currently, Van Newkirk is conducting research in fiber optics on designing, fabricating, and characterizing specialty optical fibers for their use in lasers and sensors. “The sensors that I help to develop can withstand extreme temperatures, making them useful for applications in the oil and gas industry,” she explains.

Van Newkirk is a two-time First Place winner in the Mathematics, Optics and Physical Sciences Category of UCF’s Graduate Research Forum. She is also the current president of Women in Lasers and Optics (WiLO), a new group in CREOL working to create a network of women in the field of optics, as well as to encourage girls to choose science for their careers. In addition, she volunteers at an afterschool program for elementary school students in Bithlo, FL.

Van Newkirk will complete her doctorate in 2016 and plans to work in research and development of fiber optics.

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