Dustin Roberts, Optical Science and Engineering student
Dustin Roberts, Optical Science and Engineering student

Dustin Roberts, a graduate student in the Optical Science and Engineering interdisciplinary graduate program between the Colleges of Science and Engineering, recently completed his undergraduate studies in Physics with a concentration in applied and theoretical physics and a minor in mathematics in the College of Science at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH). Dustin is making significant progress in optics, particularly in the areas of quantum dots and metasurfaces, under the guidance of Dr. Seyed Sadeghi, Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Engaging in various projects, Dustin is exploring innovative applications for measuring physical processes.

Roberts' fondness for optics traces back to his childhood when an outdoor excursion sparked his interest in the field: "We went up on top of the mountain for stargazing and looked through a telescope; we saw either Saturn or Jupiter, I can't remember which. But that wasn't what interested me. They had a laser pointer straight up into the sky, and you could see the beam going all the way up, reflecting, scattering off of the atmosphere, and I just thought that was the coolest thing ever," he shares. Over the years, fueled by a love for science fiction and a desire to discover the mysteries of the universe, he has dedicated himself to pushing the boundaries of optical science.

Roberts' journey into optics began during his undergraduate years when he ventured on a project focused on quantum dots as part of his Intermediate Lab class project. This initial involvement laid the groundwork for his subsequent efforts as a graduate student, where he transitioned into the Optical Science and Engineering (OSE) program.

Roberts' research at the nanophotonic group at the UAH Department of Physics and Astronomy, focuses on fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy (FLIM), a technique that enables forming optical images using the lifetime of fluorophores such as quantum dots. By utilizing FLIM, Roberts is investigating phenomena like energy transfer between quantum dots, paving the way for a deeper understanding of quantum dynamics at the nanoscale level.

Roberts' work in exciton diffusion involves electron-hole pairs generated by photon absorption within quantum dots circulating through the sample before emitting photons. This intricate process is similar to the random walk phenomenon and holds immense potential for applications ranging from advanced imaging techniques to emulating natural processes like photosynthesis.

In addition to his work on FLIM, Roberts has also made significant contributions to the field of metasurfaces. These artificially engineered surfaces, composed of collections of nanostructures, exhibit unique optical properties that can be tailored for various applications. Roberts' research involves the characterization and application of metasurfaces capable of manipulating light at the nanoscale, opening doors to ultra-compact optical devices and high-performance sensors.

As a graduate teaching assistant, he goes beyond sharing knowledge and expertise; he also seeks to nurture other students' skills in experimental optics and hands-on research, making them feel valued and encouraged in their academic journey. Roberts' commitment to mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers is not just a part of his role but a deep-rooted passion. 

Roberts emphasizes the importance of studying optics in various fields, especially defense contracting and technological advancements. He highlights how defense contractors require intricate optical systems for targeting high-energy lasers. He also emphasizes the role of optics in atmospheric propagation and celestial observation. Roberts points out significant projects like the James Webb Telescope, constructed by professionals who specialized in optics, stressing its vital contribution to space exploration. Moreover, he points out the relevance of optics in medical science applications such as microscopes and medical imaging. He believes optics is crucial due to its deep impact across diverse industries and its key role in advancing scientific understanding and technological innovation.

Roberts envisions a future where his research leads to tangible advancements in areas such as solar energy harvesting, biomedical imaging, and beyond. With a tenacious pursuit of knowledge and commitment to excellence, Roberts is pushing the boundaries of optical science.