Optics runs in the family: Vitek Stepien

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Vitek StepienVitek Stepien, a doctoral student at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics, knew what field he wanted to study from the beginning of his college career. He said he has been acquainted with optics ever since he was a child because his father is an optics researcher.

“I was always interested in optics and engineering, and when I went to college, I decided that I’d like to specialize in that field,” Stepien said in an interview with Photonics Media. Once in college, Stepien discovered that the areas of optics that intrigued him differed from his father’s specializations. With this knowledge, he decided to pursue higher education instead of jumping into working in the industry.

Stepien works in the Laser and Photonic Systems Group at Rochester, guided by John Marciante, an associate professor of optics whose research focuses mainly on optical waveguides. The group’s research involves developing advanced laser sources and photonics technology for use in laser machining, lidar, and other applications.

Stepien is researching ways to increase the power delivered by fiber lasers. “There are certain phenomena that limit how much power we’re able to obtain from a single fiber, and my goal is to overcome some of the obstacles to enable higher and higher powers,” he said. “This is important for many practical applications, such as materials processing and laser machining, inertial confinement fusion, as well as some medical and military applications.”

Femtosecond laser surface processing is a particular interest, and Stepien said he hopes it will see wider adoption in the future. This type of laser processing can alter the surface structure of materials and give them new properties, such as making them hydrophobic or hydrophilic. With these capabilities, the technology presents a promising way to manufacture passive water filters. “This would be a momentous step toward providing clean, drinkable water in Third World countries, where it is scarce,” he said.

About the future, Stepien said, “My goal is to advance most prominent laser technologies to a point where they will become reliable, effective, and inexpensive, so that they can transform our everyday life by improving technologies such as consumer electronics, illumination, medicine, manufacturing, IT, telecom, and many more.”

Published: December 2020
Grad Student Profiles

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