P. Scott Carney

9/18/2013 Mark Pajor, ECE ILLINOIS

Paul Scott Carney
Paul Scott Carney

Q: What’s your area of expertise?
A: Theoretical optics, physical optics. I am trained in (hold a PhD in) theoretical physics.  My thesis involved certain theorems for conservation laws in the physics of waves.  Over the last 14 years, I've been mainly concerned with applications in imaging and spectroscopy.  This often involves setting up and solving the so-called inverse problem for a particular experiment.  That is, I try to write down the physics that predicts the data coming out of the instrument from properties of a sample under investigations.  Having done that, I then see if I can calculate the sample properties from the data, the inverse problem.

Q: Can you give me a brief synopsis of your education and career?
A: I was an undergrad here, from ‘90-‘94, in engineering physics, and went on to the University of Rochester and did a PhD there. Then on to Washington University where I was a postdoc for a couple of years, then I came here.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being at the University of Illinois?

A: My wonderful colleagues. It’s a great collaborative community.

Q: Why did you decide to become a physicist?
A: I like understanding how things work.

Q: What made you interested in optics specifically?
A: I worked for an Airforce lab, known now as Rome Labs, when I was a kid doing research in fiber optics.  That got me started.  I was later an undergrad at Illinois and took a great optics course in the physics department called "Light."  In grad school I became interested in coherence theory because of its connection to observable quantities.  I like the fact that I can literally see the phenomena that I work on describing mathematically.

Q: What’s a recent research accomplishment you’re proud of?
A: The most recent thing I think is fairly significant is some work where - working with some collaborators of mine - we've married holography and ultramicroscopy to produce a new kind of highly resolved - nanometer resolved - imaging system with phase sensitivity.

Q: Last year you received the Everitt Teaching Award from the College of Engineering. What do you enjoy most about teaching?
A: I like the exponential payoff in affecting young people. I think it’s very rewarding, probably the most significant thing I do.

Q: What role do students play in your research?
A: Well, I have a couple of grad students who are working on various things. I have a student right now who’s extending some of the theoretical work we did for ISAM to new areas, new modalities, and just completed a round of simulations and then a first round of actual data processing from the experiment. So that student’s taking a project from theoretical conception all the way through to realization. Some of my students have done purely theoretical work under my guidance, and some have done – as this student’s doing – a combination of theory and experiment. I have another student working on computing complex fields in this new form of holography. A theoretical effort with fairly immediate applications.

Q: You're one of the co-founders of Diagnostic Photonics. Can you tell me what your role is in the company?
A: I am the chief scientific officer.  I think that pretty well covers it.  The company is built around technology enabled by an understanding of the fundamental physics of light.  I advise on the physics that makes the instrument work and I solve problems that arise in connection to the associated algorithms.

Q: I see you’re also the director of the Optical Science Group at Illinois. What are your goals and accomplishments as director of the group?
A: I hope to do interesting science that is also useful beyond the original context of the questions we address. I think I've been successful in establishing new imaging techniques in near-field optics at the nanometer scale and in far-field optics at the micron scale.  I'm very open-minded about where we go next. I'm currently excited about spectroscopy and holography.