Please consider downloading the latest version of Internet Explorer
to experience this site as intended.
Tools Search Main Menu

Scott Carney ‘absolutely honored’ to direct Institute of Optics

June 26, 2017
portrait of Scott Carney

Scott Carney. (University photo / J. Adam Fenster)

Scott Carney says he will have “the best job in optics” starting July 1. That’s when he becomes the director of the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester.

“I am absolutely honored to be the new director,” says Scott, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“This is the best faculty in optics. The people at the institute have defined optics for a generation, just as their predecessors defined optics for their generation, just as their predecessors did.”

The institute, founded in 1929, is the oldest school of optics in the nation and has awarded nearly half of all this country’s optics degrees. The faculty conducts cutting edge research in fields such as fiber optics, quantum optics, laser matter interaction, optical coherence tomography, and terahertz waves.

However, the institute will not rest on its laurels, says outgoing director Xi-Cheng Zhang, who will remain on the faculty as the M. Parker Givens Professor of Optics.

“We are facing competition from other schools that have colleges or centers of optics that are much larger in research funding, faculty size, and number of students,” Zhang says. “Scott is extremely capable. I have great confidence he can lead the institute to new heights. He’s a wonderful hire, who is coming in with the overwhelming support of the faculty here.”

This will be a homecoming of sorts for Carney, who earned his PhD in physics at Rochester studying with Emil Wolf, the leading expert in coherence and polarization of optical fields. Carney’s doctoral work enabled him to become well acquainted with the institute.

“Everyone in Emil’s group, and Joe Eberly’s and Len Mandel’s groups (also in physics) all kind of commingled with groups at the institute. There was really no distinction between optics done in physics and physics done in optics. It was a great community then, and remains so today,” Carney says.

Wendi Heinzelman, dean of the Hajim School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, says Carney “has a deep-seated love for the institute. He’s coming in with a fresh perspective, but he knows the culture, the history, the aura of the institute — and he very much wants to help bring the institute to the next level, building on the outstanding reputation it has.”

Zhang’s “hard work and heavy lifting” as director “has made it easier for me to come in,” Carney says.

During his 5.5-year term, Zhang oversaw increases in:

  • Undergraduate and masters enrollments,
  • Student exchanges and other partnerships with overseas universities, especially in China and Russia, boosting the institute’s international stature
  • Professorships, and scholarships and prizes for graduate students
  • Corporate partners in the institute’s Industrial Associates program, which doubled in size

Zhang also created an executive committee to involve faculty in institute governance, restructured the staff, and brought deficit budgets under control, resulting in surpluses.

“He’s done a fantastic job,” Heinzelman says. “The institute is in a very good place, and a huge amount of that is due to Xi-Cheng’s outstanding leadership.”

Two of his initial priorities, Carney says, involve building on Zhang’s initiatives to create a strong undergraduate program and involve faculty in the institute’s governance.

Carney joined the University of Illinois in 2001, after two years as a post-doctoral associate at Washington University in St. Louis.

A theorist who has written seminal papers on near-field inverse scattering, his work bridges the gap between pure and applied research. “All of the projects in my group are either driven by applications or are meant to drive new applications,” Carney notes.

Among his innovations is a handheld medical diagnostic probe that uses near-infrared light waves rather than ultrasound. The device is produced by Diagnostic Photonics Inc., a startup that Carney co-founded and serves as chief scientific officer.

Carney was recently appointed interim director of the Innovation, Leadership, and Engineering Entrepreneurship Degree Program at Illinois

“He is a very well-rounded candidate,” Heinzelman says. “He’s very outgoing and personable, and is well connected to the optics community, including involvement in the Optical Society.” For example, Carney is editor-in-chief of the Journal of the Optical Society of America A.

Govind Agrawal, the James C. Wyant Professor of Optics, chaired the search committee. When Carney came to Rochester to interview, Agrawal says, “he was asking all the right kinds of questions: How can we best help students grow? What needs to be done to make further progress and maintain the reputation of the institute?”

Tags: , , ,

Category: University News