Meet Dr. Alexander Lin, who joined the LightTools Software Development team as an Illumination Software Developer in March 2020. Before working full-time at the Synopsys Optical Solutions Group, he was a summer intern at the Pasadena office and worked on the improved Perfect Lens User-Defined Optical Property (UDOP) with Abbe sine condition for the LightTools 9.0 release.
Alex is an alumnus of the University of Arizona and obtained his Ph.D. degree in Spring 2020. He had also completed research work at the Image Science Lab, AIM Photonics at University of Arizona and Particle Beam Physics Lab at UCLA. Alex is the recipient of the Kenneth E. and Michele L. Moore Endowed Scholarship (2015) as well as the Willis Lamb Jr. Scholarship (2014).
How did you decide to study optics?
My first real experience with optics came during my time at UCLA, where I was fortunate enough to work in a free electron laser lab. Through that research, I was able to gain (pun intended?) appreciation for light and its utility in imaging mind-boggling fine structures. The generation of laser light was particularly interesting to me, as the creation of a coherent field from wiggling electrons seemed to be magic. This motivated me to continue my studies in optics in graduate school.
However, it was in graduate school where I began to fully grasp the scope of optics and its impact in many fields. Around that time, a close friend of mine had developed Hodgkin’s lymphoma and this served as a catalyst for me to pursue research in using optics to improve medical diagnosis. While I am no longer working in that specific subfield, I feel like the products I am working on at Synopsys can aid in optics work that can be used to enrich and better peoples’ lives.
What were your studies like at UCLA and the University of Arizona?
I studied Physics and Optical Science at UCLA and University of Arizona, respectively. Both institutions were amazing, and I learned a lot in both places. I think the well-defined course schedule of UCLA’s physics programs made it easy to develop good foundations and the wide range of classes at University of Arizona helped me expand my understanding of optics. The faculty and students around me also greatly made the experience worthwhile and fun.
However, probably the most important parts of both schools were my individual mentors who served both as academic and life advisors. I strongly credit Dr. Gil Travish and Dr. Matthew Kupinski for helping me get to where I am today.
What made you decide to work for Synopsys, and how has that been so far?
My decision to join Synopsys was fueled by a few of factors. The most important was the people I would be working with. I had the luxury of working alongside the development team during an internship in the summer of 2019, and through that experience, I quickly learned that my peers were not only highly knowledgeable but also caring and engaging. By being in an environment with good people, I feel like I can continue to learn and grow. Another factor was the nature of the work. Through my graduate studies, I realized that I wanted to be involved in software development rather than hardware development. Synopsys allowed me to pursue such a goal and to work on well-defined projects with a clear purpose. Lastly, as a Los Angeles native, being able to come home and be close to my parents has been a blessing.
What are your aspirations for the future?
At Synopsys, I would like to continue to develop features for LightTools so that our users can effectively utilize the software to develop impactful technologies and advance scientific understanding. A personal goal of mine is to also continue learning about optics and programming — and the best way I have found to do that here is by engaging with my other coworkers who all have very unique backgrounds and are willing to share their knowledge with me. I also would like to become more active in outreach programs in Los Angeles to help inspire young students to get interested in science and math.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
On a professional level, I would say that I am very proud of completing my doctoral degree. As many others can attest, the journey of a Ph.D. is long and arduous and sometimes I would find myself questioning if it was worthwhile to continue. But by going through the process, I certainly grew as a person, showing myself the value of hard work and perseverance. And to borrow loosely from one of my coworkers at Synopsys, by completing my dissertation, I was able to contribute a small (and hopefully not completely useless) piece of knowledge to humankind.
On a personal level, I’m proud of the friendships I’ve been able to maintain with my elementary school friends who have grown to become my most valued friends. While easy to overlook, these friendships took time and effort to cultivate and maintain, and I am very thankful that I spent the time to do so.
Any advice for those in a similar path in the optics industry?
I had the luxury of attending a top graduate program whose focus was in optics and I was constantly surrounded by peers who shared my interests and faculty who had the patience to give good instruction. This helped me grow immensely as an optical scientist and to develop a good foundation in the field. However, such an environment may not be available to everyone. The best advice I can give someone who is interested in entering this industry would be to surround yourself with people who share a passion for the field. Engaging in literature discussions, struggling through concepts, and trying to explain to others complex topics will help you grow your understanding in optics immensely. The university setting provides an easy environment for this, but it’s not impossible to replicate outside of it. Lastly, math and good programming skills are always helpful.
What are some things that you do for fun?
I find a lot of enjoyment in spending time with my family and friends. For me, this last year and a half has really reinforced the importance of spending quality time with others and good conversations. I also really enjoy learning about food and cooking — although oftentimes the food I end up making turns out very differently than how I originally planned. Board games are also fun — even if it ends in the occasional table flip.