Presidential Award for Optics Breakthroughs

Engineer Michael Escuti's liquid crystal research is revolutionizing optics. Even the White House has noticed, bestowing a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

Nominated by the National Science Foundation, Escuti was honored for developing liquid crystal ”polarization gratings,” a thin layer of liquid crystal material on a glass plate. His research has shown how polarization gratings, as well as devices and applications based on them, can solve problems in optics previously thought unsolvable.

Head of the Opto-Electronics and Lightwave Engineering Group in the NC State College of Engineering, he educates students through collaborations with international academic teams and industries, and reaches out to work in underserved communities.

The awards program known as PECASE, established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, honors researchers for working at the frontiers of science and technology and serving the community through scientific leadership, public education or outreach. Winners receive research grants of up to fiveyears to support their work.

”It is inspiring to see the innovative work being done by these scientists and engineers as they ramp up their careers careers that I know will be not only personally rewarding but also invaluable to the nation,” President Obama noted in announcing the current class.

One result of Escuti's research is a precise, energy-efficient way of steering laser beams that is relatively inexpensive. The research has potential applications in radar and space communication systems that use lasers to transfer data between platforms such as between satellites or between aircraft and soldiers on the battlefield.

Escuti's team, consisting of NC State students along with partner Boulder Nonlinear Systems Inc., has already delivered prototypes of the technology to the U.S. Air Force and is working on other applications, including tools that could lead to the development of compact and low-cost imaging for aerial vehicles, satellites and biomedical diagnostics.

Escuti is commercializing other research through a start-up company, ImagineOptix Corp., which has already prototyped a tiny, highly efficient projection display for hand-held and mobile devices. (See Fast 15: Focus on the Future.)

Escuti has received an NSF Career Award and several patents for his work, which has garnered more than $4 million in external research funding. He is an Eagle Scout and former NASA fellow.


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Dr. Michael Escuti's revolutionary work in optics has earned him a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.