Dr. Aaron Bauer of the University of Rochester is the 2020 recipient of the Kevin P. Thompson Optical Design Innovator Award, which recognizes significant contributions to lens design, optical engineering, or metrology. The award was established in memory of Kevin Thompson, who was Group Director of the Synopsys Optical Engineering Services team. We interviewed Dr. Bauer to learn how he became interested in optics, his current research projects, and his future goals.
How did you get interested in optics and what are you currently involved in?
As an undergraduate in physics, I was looking for summer research opportunities between my junior and senior year. I applied to the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduate program and received an invitation to come to the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. I worked in Professor Robert Boyd’s quantum optics lab investigating the quantum phenomenon of ghost imaging. Although I didn’t stay in the same branch of optics, the experience opened my eyes to the possibilities within the field of optics. Optics straddles the line between engineering and basic physics research and that is what I found to be most attractive.
My work now is focused on using novel optical elements in various families of optical systems. We have been applying freeform surfaces to all types of optical systems, such as telescopes, eyepieces, and spectrometers. The goal of this work is to quantify the benefits (such as system volume or optical performance) of using such surfaces when compared to the conventional methods that are standard in industry.
What does this award mean to you?
I had the opportunity to work with and be mentored by Kevin Thompson during graduate school, so I experienced first-hand his extraordinary gifts as an optical designer and, more importantly, as a teacher. He always found extra time in his busy days to lend a hand or offer some sage advice. To receive this award that was established in his honor is certainly humbling and inspires me to set high goals for myself in my profession.
What do you hope to do in the future?
My current work focuses on using novel surface types, but I have not lost my passion for optical design of all types. My career goal is to hone my optical design skills to the point where I can venture off on my own and work as an optical design consultant and help develop the next generation of optical systems.
What other hobbies or fun activities do you like to do in your spare time?
In my spare time, I enjoy playing recreational sports – I’ve been playing Ultimate Frisbee regularly in Rochester for about 10 years now. I’m also a huge Buffalo Bills fan. Even though the NFL season is only 5 months long, mine is a year-round obsession. Go Bills!
Dr. Bauer was also the winner of the Robert S. Hilbert Memorial Travel Grant and winner of our Robert S. Hilbert Memorial Optical Design Competition in 2014.