Brandon Hellman from the College of Optical Sciences, University of Arizona, is the 2020 recipient of the Michael Kidger Memorial Scholarship. The award was established to honor Michael John Kidger, a well-respected educator, design software developer and member of the optical science and engineering community. We interviewed Brandon 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?
I enjoyed math, physics, and engineering in high school, so I was drawn to the “Optical Sciences & Engineering” major at the University of Arizona, which separately highlighted the science aspects and the engineering aspects of optics. I found my passion for optical design through summer internships designing and building optical engines for display systems. I dove into the Ph.D. in Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona knowing about the exceptional training in optical engineering that the research labs there have to offer.
My Ph.D. research has focused on a new beam steering and pattern steering technique. We expanded the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) to have an additional degree of freedom by creating a programmable blazed grating across its active area. This means that we can not only steer a beam into different directions using the DMD, but we can also encode that beam with different spatial patterns in different directions. The difficult part was figuring out how to make it work, but now, the fun part is figuring out how it can be used in optical designs. So far, we’ve made hybrid holographic lidar systems for autonomous vehicles and a gigapixel display with 1,400 perspectives!
What does receiving the Kidger Memorial Scholarship mean to you?
Receiving the Michael Kidger Memorial Scholarship in Optical Design means many things to me. I’ve had Michael Kidger’s textbooks on my shelf since I started studying optical design, so though I never met him, he’s been my written teacher at times. I have also known about the scholarship for years and met several of its past recipients—I’ve been amazed by their works. I feel honored to follow in the footsteps of Michael Kidger and the recipients of his memorial scholarship, and I hope I can similarly expand the field of optical design.
What do you hope to do in the future?
I want to design optical systems that positively impact people’s lives. Whether I continue working on lidar to improve vehicle safety, augmented reality to better connect and educate people, or something entirely different, I want my optical designs to help people.
What other hobbies or fun activities do you like to do in your spare time?
I love to dance. I’ve regularly practiced over thirty dance styles, both solo (like ballet) and social (like swing). I’m a competitive ballroom dancer, most recently focusing on smooth styles (waltz, tango, foxtrot, and Viennese waltz) at the California State DanceSport Championships. I also have particular love for tap, blues, lindy hop, and west coast swing. The social dance world has been shuttered by coronavirus, so I’m excited to someday get out and jive again.
We’d like to thank Brandon for taking the time for this interview, and wish him all the best in his future endeavors.