In this monthly interview series, we turn the spotlight on members of the academic community and the important research they do — as thought partners, collaborators, and independent contributors.
For December, we nominated Nick Vamivakas, a professor at University of Rochester. Vamivakas has been an academic collaborator at Meta for several years, contributing knowledge and expertise to teams within Reality Labs. In this Q&A, Vamivakas shares more about his research background, recent projects, the start of his collaboration with Facebook, his research interests, and his collaboration with Meta.
Q: Tell us about your role at University of Rochester and the type of research you specialize in.
I am Professor in the Institute of Optics with joint appointments in Physics and Materials Science. I am also the Dean of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs for Arts, Sciences, and Engineering at the University of Rochester. My research group is really interested in fundamental science issues across optical physics. Some example projects are discovering new features and constraints possessed by electromagnetic fields, how nanophotonic devices can structure electromagnetic energy flow, quantum information science devices based on the interaction of light and solid-state matter, and if quantum electrodynamic interaction of light and matter can enable new chemistry.
Q: What have you been working on lately?
So we have been thinking about issues related to partial coherence of vector beams, and fields, and how this influences the interaction of light with nanophotonic devices. Another recent development has been the demonstration of metaform optics — the merging of metasurfaces and freeform optics. We have been looking into new optical system designs that metaforms may enable. We also have been investigating the potential for metasurfaces to be used in the codesign of optical and electronic systems geared to pattern recognition and classification. Finally, we have been determining fundamental quantum limits in scene characterization and how one can achieve these limits in practice with new approaches to imaging physics.
Q: When and how did your collaboration with Facebook start?
The collaboration with Facebook started a number of years ago. I think it grew out of a mutual interest in how new physics might enable novel optical system architectures.
Q: How have you contributed your expertise to Facebook?
A few ways. I have given seminars to Reality Lab researchers at Meta. Students I have mentored in my research group have taken on internships and full-time positions at Reality Lab. I also participate in the Meta faculty forums that provide a platform to brainstorm solutions on challenging problems in optical system design.
Q: Where can people learn more about your research?
Although a little out of date, one place is my group website. But, if really interested, the best thing would be to connect with me directly!