Lynford L. Goddard
Q: What is your area of expertise?
A: My area is photonics and optics. My group works on device design, simulation, fabrication, and testing. We make devices like sensors for trace gas detection. We’re really into hydrogen detection. We also make new types of on-chip photonic components. One of the main things we’re working on is reflective microring resonators.
Q: Can you give a brief synopsis of your education and career?
A: I was at Stanford for undergraduate and graduate school. I earned a bachelor’s in math and physics (’98) and then master’s in electrical engineering (’03), then PhD in physics (’05). After that I was at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for two years as a post-doc before coming here.
Q: You’ve been at Illinois since 2007. What do you enjoy most about being here?
A: Working with the students and working with the colleagues. There are very highly motivated students that study here. It’s a joy to come in and teach and to work with the students in the lab and in research.
Q: Why did you decide to become an engineer?
A: I have a really great love for understanding how things happen, trying to understand the universe, nature, that sort of thing. And I’m curious about pushing technology. I’m interested in understanding the limits and thinking about ways to solve problems.
Q: How did you get interested in photonics and optics?
A: The first time I was really introduced to optics was as an undergraduate in a senior-year class. It was an elective on lasers and optics. There were some really cool experiments that we did on diffraction that got me really excited about lasers. And then I had an internship between undergraduate and graduate school on testing semiconductor lasers. And that’s what got me into the subfield of semiconductor lasers.
Q: What is an accomplishment that you’re proud of?
A: There have been a lot of things along the way. Students graduating is a really big thing. Especially, having several of my students finish their PhD degrees last year. That’s a high point of a faculty member’s career, to see their graduate and also undergraduate students develop and complete solid theses.
In terms of projects that we’ve worked on, we’ve gotten a lot of publicity. I’m collaborating with Professor Gabriel Popescu on optics and quantitative phase imaging, and we’ve gotten good press for our work to watch semiconductors as they etch, and also our more recent work on doing three-dimensional tomography using a white light source. As for the work I do within my group, I would say our demonstration of reflective microring resonators. We demonstrated a new type of photonic component. It’s something that we theorized back in 2008-09 and have been simulating since then, and we finally fabricated, tested, and showed that they worked in 2011.
Q: What do you enjoy about teaching?
A: One of the things that you get from teaching is a clear understanding of the subject. You really have to study and learn a subject in order to explain it to someone else. So, there are benefits to me in terms of learning the material better. On the other side, I really like interacting with students. I really like it when I discuss a concept and they start thinking about it and relating it to other concepts that they’ve seen in other classes. They get a better picture as to how the subjects are inter-related.
Q: What role do students play in your research?
A: They’re very active in all aspects. When I first started, they were primarily doing device modeling, device fabrication, and device testing. Over time as they started to get more senior, they’ve been contributing in other ways, such as helping write proposals, mentoring undergraduate students, and developing and designing their own research ideas. So, we started off with them working on technical things, and we’re working towards professional development. We want them to have the necessary skills to run their own research groups, whether it’s in academia or in an industry environment.
Q: You’ve received many awards and honors throughout your career. Which is the most meaningful to you?
A: I think the two most meaningful have been the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE) and the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement. The Presidential Early Career Award was awarded through the Department of Energy, and it was my chance to meet Obama in the White House. It was an amazing ceremony and an amazing event. And then the AAAS – The American Association for the Advancement of Science – award was in recognition of the work that I had done with the Girls Learning Electrical Engineering (GLEE) high school summer camp that we have on campus, and for some of my mentoring activities.
Q: What are you focused on today?
A: We’re working on several different things right now. One involves performing accurate simulations of photonic devices using parallel computing and the finite element method; that’s a collaboration with Professor Jianming Jin and two professors in computer science. Then I’m working with Professor Popescu on quantitative phase imaging for material and biological science. And then we’re continuing with our device fabrication to design and develop new types of photonic devices. Those are the main things we’re working on, and within each one of those there are a lot of sub-topics.
Q: What does the future hold for optics and photonics?
A: A lot of effort is focused on solving the challenges of electronics industry beyond Moore’s Law: can photonics play a prominent role in integrated circuits? Can the components we’re developing be fully utilized – not necessarily competing with electronics – but are there certain applications where photonics is the more natural solution? On the microscopy side, we’re pushing for how can we image larger regions, with very high resolution. So can we do something where we measure, say, a square meter sample with nanometer scale accuracy? We want to measure the flatness of large surfaces and also to be able to detect small imperfections in fabricated devices or fabricated systems.
Q: What technology or research of yours are you most excited about?
A: There’s interest from some companies in applying our work in reflective microring devices. There are certain companies that would use the reflective microring devices that we develop as mirrors for lasers, or in other photonic components. And then there’s our work with quantitative phase microscopy, developing new methods for detection, new methods to measure structures of material science or biological science, and also our work with defect detection – being able to find small imperfections in fabricated semiconductor chips using an optical method. Those are the main things that we’re focusing our excitement on.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your research?
A: Research should tackle grand societal challenges. I think our work in photonics is primarily to develop new opportunities for photonics to play a role in consumer electronics, to play a role in the way that integrated circuits are made and chip-to-chip communication is done on a single computer. We want to develop ways that we can, essentially, do computing better by including photonics, not necessarily as the logic gates, but for the routing of the signals on the boards in the computer. The other big societal challenge that we’re trying to address with our work with optics is being able to detect diseases and measure cell properties. That’s the biological side. On the material side, we want to be able to engineer better materials, be able to understand why certain materials fail, be able to understand nanoscale dynamics and material systems so that we can make improvements.