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    Rising Researchers
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2020 Rising Researchers announced

Congratulations to the 2020 Rising Researchers

2020 Rising Researchers Announced

The Rising Researchers program recognizes early career professionals who conduct outstanding work in product development or research in the defense, commercial, and scientific sensing, imaging, optics, or related fields. SPIE is pleased to announce this year's awardees, who are each invited to present their work at SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing Digital Forum.

2021 Applications Open
July/August 2020

2021 Applications Due
early October 2020

2020 Winners

Discipline: Optical Design & Engineering
Johnathan Fan
Jonathan Fan
Stanford University (USA)
Jonathan Fan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Stanford University, where he started in 2014. His research program focuses on the design and implementation of the next generation of nanophotonic systems. He received his bachelor's degree with highest honors from Princeton University and his doctorate from Harvard University. He is the recipient of the Air Force Young Investigator Award, Sloan Foundation Fellowship, Packard Foundation Fellowship, and PECASE.
Paper: Data-driven design of metasurface systems (11389-32)


Discipline: Optical Design & Engineering
Tian Gu
Tian Gu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (USA)
Dr. Tian Gu is a Research Scientist at Materials Research Laboratory and Department of Materials Science and Engineering at MIT. His research interests involve nano-/micro-optics, integrated photonics, and photonic materials, focusing on the areas of metasurface optics, data communications, optical phase change materials, photovoltaics, on-chip spectroscopy, flexible photonics, and 2-D materials integrated photonics. Dr. Gu received his B.S. degree from Beijing Institute of Technology, China, in Electrical Engineering, and Ph.D. degree from University of Delaware, USA, in Electrical and Computer Engineering. He is a recipient of the R&D 100 Award and the TechConnect National Innovation Award.
Paper: High-performance reconfigurable meta-optics based on optical phase change materials (11389-25)


Discipline: Defense & Security
Sevgi Gurbuz
Sevgi Zubeyde Gurbuz
University Alabama (USA)
Sevgi Z. Gurbuz received both the B.S. (1998) and M.Eng. (2000) in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2000), and the PhD. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology (2009). Prior to her current position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, she served as an active-duty U.S. Air Force Officer at the Air Force Research Laboratory (Rome, NY) Sensors Directorate. Her current research is focused on the application of machine learning to radar signature understanding, especially fine-grain human motion and gesture recognition, gait analysis, American Sign Language recognition, and enabling cognition in next-generation radar systems. Her work has resulted in more than 80 publications, including a book (edited), several book chapters, and a patent application.
Paper: Cross-frequency training with adversarial learning for radar micro-Doppler signature classification (11408-16)


Discipline: Defense & Security
David Haefner
David Haefner
US Army CCDC - C5ISR Center - Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (USA)

David Haefner is the technical lead of the Advanced Sensor Evaluation Facility (ASEF) for the US Army's Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD). He holds a PhD in Optics from the UCF's CREOL (2010), an MS in Electrical Engineering (2014) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2015) both from Catholic University of America. His current research spans electro-optic imaging system measurement for performance predictions and new measurements to support the ASEF developed NVLabCap measurement software package. He has published 17 journal articles and 62 conference proceedings while also contributing to reproducible research through publishing his measurement source code on the Mathworks file exchange.

Paper: High throughput thermal camera characterization (11406-5)


Discipline: Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing
Gillian Kyne
Gillian Kyne
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (USA)
Gillian Kyne is the detector scientist for a balloon mission called FIREBall-2 with experience in detector characterization, specifically for EMCCDs (Electron Multiplying CCD), through relevant CCD and CMOS experience. Kyne has in-depth knowledge in CCD clocking optimization, including full development of the FIREBall-2 camera that was eventually flown in Sept. 2018. Kyne is experienced with cryo-systems, vacuum development, and building software for detector operations, and has also worked on detector development for ground-based observing for instruments used on the P200 Hale Telescope.
Paper: Single photon counting detectors: TRL advancement of EMCCDs (11389-80)


Discipline: Micro / Nano Fabrication
Howard Ho Wai Lee
Howard (Ho Wai) Lee
Baylor University (USA)
Howard Lee is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Physics at Baylor University and IQSE Fellow and visiting professor in the Institute for Quantum Science and Engineering (IQSE) at Texas A&M. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech, working with Prof. Harry Atwater in active plasmonics/metasurfaces. He received his PhD in Physics from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Germany in 2012 under the supervision of Prof. Philip Russell. His current research focuses on active linear, nonlinear, and quantum plasmonic/metasurface/zero-index optics, quantum biophotonics and imaging, "meta"-fiber optics, and hybrid photonic-plasmonic on-chip optical devices. His work on nano-optics, plasmonics, and photonic crystals has led to > 35 journal publications in various journals, such as Science, Nano Letters, Advanced Materials, ACS Photonics, and Laser & Photonics Reviews as well as 50 invited talks and 130 conference papers. Dr. Lee is a recipient of a 2019 DARPA Director's Fellowship, a 2019 IEEE OGC Young Scientist Award, a 2018 NSF CAREER Award, a 2017 DARPA Young Faculty Award, a 2018 OSA Ambassador, a 2017 APS Robert S. Hyer Award, a 2018 Baylor Young Investigator Award, a 2016 Baylor Proposal Development Award, and a 2012 Croucher Postdoctoral Fellowship.
Paper: Extreme epsilon-near-zero on-chip and on-fiber photonic devices (11389-34)


Discipline: Industrial Sensing & Measurement
Beiwen Li
Beiwen Li
Iowa State University (USA)
Dr. Beiwen Li is an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the director of Analytical 3D Optical Sensing Laboratory at Iowa State University. Dr. Li received his Ph.D. degree from Purdue University in 2017. He is the recipient of Purdue University Lambert Teaching Fellowship and 2016 SPIE education scholarship.
Paper: Similarity evaluation of 3D topological measurement results using statistical methods (11397-9)


Discipline: Micro / Nano Fabrication
Nicole Pfiester
Nicole Pfiester
Ohio State University (USA)
Dr. Nicole A. Pfiester is a President's Postdoctoral Scholar at the Ohio State University where she uses resonant structures to reduce the dark current in infrared photodetectors based on Type II superlattice materials. As a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, she received the first Joint-PhD in Electrical Engineering and Materials Science Engineering from Tufts University for her work on metamaterial selective emitters and filters in the near infrared. Nicole received a B.S. in Physics from Purdue University, where she worked with self-assembled GaN nanowires grown via molecular beam epitaxy. Her research interests include combining physics and materials science approaches to improve the performance of electrical devices.
Paper: Optical properties of III-V superlattices for the design optimization of antenna-coupled detectors (11407-48)


Discipline: Astronomy
Matthew Smith
Matthew Smith
Jet Propulsion Laboratory (USA)
Matthew W. Smith is a systems engineer and researcher at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he has contributed to projects ranging from advanced instrumentation for exoplanet detection to the Mars 2020 rover. His research interests include systems engineering for space-based optical telescopes, end-to-end modeling and simulation, and multi-disciplinary design optimization. Dr. Smith holds a B.A. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University, an M.Phil. in Engineering from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom), and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Paper: ASTERIA: technology and science advances from a nanosatellite space telescope (11389-90)


Discipline: Defense & Security
Christopher Valenta
Christopher Valenta
Georgia Institute of Technology (USA)
Christopher R. Valenta is a senior research engineer and adjunct professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology where he serves as the associate division head of the Electro-Optical Systems Innovation Division in the Electro-Optical Systems Laboratory and branch head of the Opto-Electronics branch. He received the B.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering & Optical Engineering from the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and the M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research interests lie in the intersection of electromagnetics, optics, and signal processing and how they are applied to remote sensing and imaging problems. He is an active volunteer in both the SPIE and IEEE and is a registered professional engineer in the State of Georgia.
Paper: Towards single aperture RF/EO/IR systems: Multi-spectral sensing and communication (11410-10)


Discipline: Defense & Security
Paul Williams
Paul Williams
Stellenbosch University (South Africa)
Dr. Paul James Williams is a senior lecturer and researcher at the Department of Food Science, Stellenbosch University in South Africa. He received his MSc (cum laude) and PhD in food science at Stellenbosch University, thereafter he completed an industry-linked postdoc at the Southern African Grain Laboratory in Pretoria. His current research activities focuses on the application of vibrational spectroscopy, hyperspectral imaging and multivariate data analysis to develop rapid methods to detect food fraud and to evaluate food quality and safety. Since commencing his lecturing position in 2014, he successfully supervised 1 PhD candidate and 4 MSc students to completion as principal investigator and 3 MSc students as co-investigator. In 2018 he was awarded the Claude Leon Merit Award for young academics.
Paper: Classification of game meat with NIR hyperspectral imaging (11421-10)


Discipline: Micro / Nano Fabrication
Sheng Xu
Sheng Xu
University of California San Diego (USA)
Sheng Xu is currently an assistant professor at UC San Diego. He is an alumnus of Peking University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His group is interested in developing wearable ultrasonic patches that can noninvasively and continuously sense physiological signals in deep tissues and central organs. His research has been presented to the Congressmen and Congresswomen as testimony during a Congressional Hearing.
Paper: Controlled epitaxial growth of hybrid halide perovskites for photovoltaics (11387-39)


Discipline: Micro / Nano Fabrication
Cunjiang Yu
Cunjiang Yu
University of Houston (USA)
Dr. Cunjiang Yu is the Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Houston. He received his Ph.D. (2010) in Mechanical Engineering at Arizona State University and was a postdoc (2010-2013) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His group focuses on creating new manufacturing technologies, mechanical design strategies, materials to develop electronics with similar attributes as those of human body. Dr. Yu is a recipient of NSF CAREER Award, ONR Young Investigator Award, MIT Technology Review Top Innovators Under 35 China Award, SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award, AVS Young Investigator Award, 3M Non-Tenured Faculty Award, and other recognitions.
Paper: Rubbery electronics: electronics made fully out of rubbery materials (11389-113)


Congratulations to all 2020 Rising Researchers! 

Judging criteria

Application materials were reviewed by a Rising Researchers Selection Committee, made up of 6-10 members from SPIE leadership, industry leadership, Defense + Commercial Sensing Chairs, and the Advisory Board.
 • The key criterion in evaluating and ranking applications was the researcher's potential long-term contribution to sensing, imaging, optics, photonics, and related fields.
 • Applications were judged based on the contribution of the researcher to the scientific, educational, or economic impact of optics and photonics.
 • Merit was judged relative to other applicants with similar professional backgrounds.
Selections will be identified online and in SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing 2020 materials.

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Rising Researchers 2021 Timeline

Abstracts due October 2020
Rising Researcher applications due October 2020
Winners announced January 2021
Winners honored DCS in April 2021