by Christopher Falkner*
Engineers are dedicated. Perhaps so much so that we often find ourselves easily frustrated with the prospect of making little (or even no) progress despite many restless hours of work, inching along toward a seemingly unreachable goal. It is refreshing, then, to get a definitive reminder now and again of why we, as students and professionals, challenge ourselves to press further into the indefatigable world of the unknown. The answer, of course – whether we acknowledge it on a daily basis – is to enhance the quality of modern life to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to live to the fullest. Such was the advice of Dr. Brian Culshaw, a professor at Strathclyde University (UK) and 2007-2008 president of the Society for Photonic Instrumentation and Engineering (SPIE) during his greatly anticipated visit to the University of Connecticut in August 2007.Since its initiation in 2006, the UConn chapter of SPIE has grown into the fourth largest student chapter in the United States and has, from the very beginning, established itself as a formidable presence in the international world of optic and photonic instrumentation and research.
During his visit to UConn, Professor Culshaw was warmly welcomed by UConn Professor-in-Residence and former SPIE president Anthony DeMaria. He also enjoyed a walking tour of the biomedical engineering (BME) facilities and a comprehensive overview of the flourishing BME program given by Dr. John Enderle, Director of the BME program and a professor or Electrical & Computer Engineering.
Passing one senior design laboratory, Professor Culshaw observed students in the process of designing revolutionary medical and assistive devices. As he proceeded from one lab station to the next, Professor Culshaw’s curiosity and excitement seemed to grow exponentially. The idea of biomedical engineering and the state-of-the-art facilities that the University of Connecticut has to offer its students, he mentioned, “is an interesting concept with, as far as I know, no direct equivalents in the UK.” After he thanked and congratulated each student and faculty member within the department, Professor Culshaw departed for the long trip home to the U.K.
While the very presence of Professor Culshaw inspired everyone who met him, it was his serenely wise mind-set and optimistic air that seemed to warm Storrs during his visit. His fascination with our research proved to be a lasting motivation that has reminded us of why we choose to be engineers. With an organization as expansive and rapidly growing as SPIE, it is comforting to hear that the group and its leading faculty have not lost sight of the humanistic and philanthropic impact of our work. We all, as engineers, lose sight of the ultimate impact of our work when we focus only on the technical (and often obscure) details of the optical world. In the end, what keeps us going is not the fine details, but rather the recognition of why we do what we do, for whom we spend endless hours in the lab, and what we hope to accomplish with our work and, more importantly, with the rest of our lives.
* Chris is a senior earning his B.S. in Biomedical Engineering at UConn. He is Vice President of the UConn SPIE chapter and a co-founder of the Connecticut Optics and Photonics Association.
** Photo courtesy of Andres Aguirre, BME graduate student
** Pictured, left to right: Nrusingh Biswal (SPIE student member), Anastasios Maurudis (President UConn SPIE), SPIE National President Brian Culshaw, Prof. Eric Donkor (ECE), Prof. Chandra Roychoudhuri (Physics), and Christopher Falkner.