New eyes on a career: Optics course exposed all students to research
The students in Claire Gmachl’s introductory course on optics design sophisticated technology, including optical wireless instant messaging systems, but they’re learning much more than engineering.
“Broad knowledge is an essential asset for the global leaders that Princeton aims to educate,” said Gmachl, professor of electrical engineering. “Engineering training goes hand-in-hand with problem solving skills and training in persistence and resourcefulness.”
She likes to begin her first lecture with a brief look at the things that students, including many non-engineers, will take away from “New Eyes for the World: Hands-On Optical Engineering.” These range from the personal (it’s good to know what to do when the pet hamster has gnawed through the Ethernet cable… again) to the practical (an understanding of technology is essential for a chief executive working with engineers) and the inspirational (trying something outside one’s comfort zone promotes personal growth).
The course, supported by the Council on Science and Technology, was designed by former post-doctoral fellow Daniel Wasserman, who is now on the faculty at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. It provides a laboratory-based engineering experience for students from disciplines beyond engineering, including the social sciences and humanities.
While classics major and 2008 valedictorian Zachary Squire doesn’t plan to pursue a career in engineering, he credits the course and Gmachl with significantly influencing his path at Princeton and beyond. After completing the course, Squire spent a summer working with Gmachl in the Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and the Environment engineering research center. His optical engineering work, he believes, helped him secure his position as a generalist associate with the investment firm D.E. Shaw & Co.
Junior Phillip Braun’s vision of the future also was shaped by “New Eyes for the World.” Braun, who intends to major in classics, enrolled in the course as a freshman, spent the following summer conducting research with Wasserman and pursued independent work in Gmachl’s lab this year. In his future employment, he hopes to apply the knowledge and experience he has gained.
“Clearly, this was not a path I had foreseen entering Princeton, but I am immensely pleased and appreciative that things have transpired as they have,” he said.