Joy Bian ’17
Phi Beta Kappa, the honor society of liberal arts, is celebrating its 239th birthday this week. Last May, a select group of 15 University of Rochester juniors earned this prestigious academic honor.
As one of the members of the Phi Beta Kappa Iota Chapter’s executive board, Pedro Vallejo Ramirez meets the criteria for academic achievement, broad liberal scholarship, humanistic values, leadership potential, co-curricular activity, and personal character.
The recipient of a Renaissance & Global Scholarship, Ramirez left his homeland of Panama and chose to study in the U.S. to seek rich and diverse research opportunities. However, as a freshman, he had no idea of what academic field he would be interested in. He tried out different things and fully explored his personal interest and potentials.
It was not until Professor Wayne Knox suggested that he take the optics class that he finally fell in love with the subject and has dedicated himself to Optical Engineering ever since.
“Optics 101 is one of the best courses I’ve ever taken.” Ramirez said, “Professor (Wayne) Knox not only showed us what we would come across in the four-year academic studies, but also what we can do with optical engineering after we graduate.”
As he took more advanced courses related to optics along the way, Ramirez became more and more obsessed with it.
“Every class I take in this field reaffirms my wish to delve into it even further,” he said.
Ramirez always viewed optics as a beautiful science despite of how challenging it truly is.
“We are interacting with light everyday,” he said. “Everything we see is light by definition. The screen, the camera, the laser for eye surgery etc., there are so many things that we can do in this field and benefit from it.”
With the strong interest and academic capability, Ramirez soon got the opportunity to explore in-depth his interested field by performing independent studies. One of the studies he did in the past semester was titled “Scattering Study of Micro-Machined Hydrogels”. It was a two-credit hour study under the supervision of Dr. Knox from the Institute of Optics. He studied the behavior of laser light passing though hydrogels that have been shaped in a special way by a high-power laser. The purpose of this study is to understand how light bends as it passes through the machined hydrogel, which may prove key in applications such as contact-lens customization and other fields in vision correction.
Ramirez says that he is always interested in lining up his research with the real-world applications, and that’s why he finds optical engineering is so fascinating and can actually improve the quality of life.
“Academic is always my top focus,” he said. “I will stretch my time in different ways to get all those extracurricular activities, my Greek life and job responsibilities to fit my schedule, but I always put academic as my No.1 priority.”
Because of this, instead of seeking opportunities, opportunities always catch him in terms of diverse activities and events. Over the summer, he was in Goa, India working as an intern for the festival called “The Story of Light” for four weeks.
“I was browsing through the list of events that celebrate the International Year of Light 2015 and stumbled upon this festival,” he said. “I submitted an application and was invited to participate as an intern prior to the festival.”
During his stay in India, Ramirez met a lot of awesome people with unbelievable life stories and experiences.
“Those people come from all over the world,” he said. “I met those visual artists doing sculptures and paintings, a computer science expert from Spain but now teaching yoga in India, the Brazilian dancers doing the choreography, and a U.S. filmmaker.”
By associating with different people, Ramirez gained a lot of life inspirations and was exposed to a brand new world brimming with adventures.
“I learned how to motorcycle, how to make bread and did a lot of crazy things there,” he said.
Since one of his roommates is a yoga instructor, he was forced to attend a yoga training session every morning.
“It hurt a bit at the beginning because my body was not that flexible, but later I pretty enjoyed it and understood more about its core concept,” he said. “It’s about the awareness about your body, how thankful you are to your lifestyle.”
Ramirez says that the most important lesson he learns is to carry a little less about the material comfort. He sees people slow down their pace and lead a life with full attention of what they are interested and act as a contributing member to the society in the meantime.
After the “Arts meets Science” festival, Ramirez stayed in India for another week doing research related to his own academic interest. The research applies to the real-world practice of solar cooking. Ramirez is trying to address people’s basic needs in terms of making use of solar energy.
“In countries which have limited amount of electricity, how can we deliver the solar energy, make it portable and do slow cook or boil water?” he asked.
Ramirez traversed the small villages in Goa, talked to people and figured out what they actually need in terms of water and food. It is a very rewarding experience both in academic research and life experience. This ongoing research greatly satisfies Ramirez’s ambition of getting his studies tied to a certain applications and actually makes an impact to people’s life.
As a senior, Ramirez is now applying for a PhD program focusing on computational imaging. He aims to finish his PhD in five years or less.
“I have so many great things that I want to do,” he said. “Always traveling with a purpose, and adventures always happen.”