Florida Tech’s Fairchild Appointed to Optical Society Public Policy Council

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Florida Tech assistant professor Shermineh Rostami Fairchild was appointed to the Optical Society’s Public Policy Council for a three-year term starting Jan. 1, 2020.

The Optical Society (OSA) council focuses on promoting the importance of basic research and federal research-and-development funding and raising awareness of optics and photonics among key Congressional offices. The council oversees OSA’s public policy program, which includes member education, congressional and agency relationships, coalition building, and efforts to educate the public on science and technology policy issues. The council also advises the OSA Board of Directors on public policy positions and legislative, regulatory and funding areas.

Working in Florida Tech’s Department of Aerospace, Physics and Space Sciences, Fairchild is one of few specialists in laser filamentation in the United States. This phenomenon consists of laser beams propagating with low losses and minimal diffraction over kilometers. Filament-induced plasma channels could be engineered into free-space waveguides to propagate optical information more efficiently. In July 2018, Fairchild was awarded a Young Investigator Program grant from the U.S. Army Research Office.

Fairchild was exposed to the OSA council during a Washington, D.C. event in April 2018. OSA representatives, as well as members of SPIE and the National Photonics Initiative, met with federal legislators about the importance of optics and photonics.

“It was really interesting how some of the things seemed so sci-fi to them,” she said. “They were asking, ‘You can really do that?’ It was a great experience for me and I really enjoyed showcasing the importance of the work we do.”

OSA representatives later asked Fairchild if she would be interested in a position on the council.

In addition to offering the opportunity to highlight the significance of optics and photonics research, Fairchild’s appointment will allow her to make more connections with researchers who are part of the council. She also is excited about advocating for women and minorities entering and already in the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“One of the biggest concerns is that even after women go through graduate school, they don’t stay in STEM, and there are various reasons for that. So, I’m looking forward to having the effective platform to express my concerns and what I think can be done differently to solve the existing issues that women in STEM have to deal with,” she said.

Fairchild’s appointment strengthens the connections between Florida Tech and OSA. Over the last year, Senior Vice President for Strategic & Research Initiatives Gisele Bennett, an OSA Fellow, served as host and co-chair of the Optical Society’s “Workshop on Role of Optics in Space and Space-based Astronomy” at the university’s Center for Aeronautics and Innovation. Brian Lail, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Florida Tech, was named to OSA’s Senior Members class of 2018.

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