Dr. Carmiña Londoño
Group Leader, Global Standards and Information Group,
National Institute of Standards and Technology USA
Who or what inspired your career choice? I majored in physics in college and, during my last two years, I took optics courses that were so fascinating that I applied to the University of Arizona to pursue a Master's degree in Optics. At the Optical Sciences Center I was attracted to lens design and did my thesis work under Bob Shannon. Later on, while working as a practicing lens designer at Polaroid, I enrolled in the graduate school at Tufts and earned my PhD in optical engineering.
What is exciting about your work? The most exciting part about lens design (and what I miss about it) was the opportunity to find very creative solutions for the various optical products. Lens design is a very creative discipline and at the same time it also requires a rigorous understanding of the nature and interaction of light with the material world. Some folks have called lens design an art, while others call it a science. I believe lens design combines both art and science to offer an exciting challenge to those who pursue it.
Knowing what you know now, what educational route would you recommend for aspiring optical scientists? If you are still in college, major in physics or optics and try to get summer jobs (whether paid or not) that allow you to explore the many aspects and applications of optics. I highly recommend a higher degree in optics since the job market is quite competitive: a master's degree or a doctorate provides an advantage and, of course, ensures broader and deeper knowledge.
If you are not a student, find a challenging job, one slightly more difficult than what you think you can handle. Find a supervisor who has had a long and productive optics career. Establish good rapport with your supervisor and ask him or her to become your mentor. Explore, learn, and ask questions so that the many fascinating aspects of optics become part of you. Be active in your professional society: this will establish your network of contacts so vital for the success of your career. Attend at least one meeting per year, give a talk, and volunteer for technical committees. SPIE offers tremendous volunteer opportunities to those who want to hone organizational and technical skills that complement their day job. Lastly, enjoy optics and allow your inquisitiveness and passion for the field guide you in all your optics endeavors.