Katie Schwertz is an optical engineer at Edmund Optics in Tucson, Arizona. She designs components for different types of optics, such as microscopes and laser beam expanders. "Discovering You: Engineering Your World" is produced by NBC News Learn in partnership with Chevron, the American Society for Engineering Education and the National Science Foundation.
Discovering You – Engineering Your World - Katie Schwertz
KATIE SCHWERTZ (Optical Engineer):
Part of optical design is choosing the types of glass that you need to accomplish your task. My name is Katie Schwertz and I am an optical design engineer.
This is one of the smaller types of assemblies we would make.
I grew up in Buffalo, New York. Looking back on it, I feel like I did a lot of things that made sense that I would go into engineering. I played a lot with building blocks. I definitely liked logic puzzles and problem solving. Optics and optical engineering is basically anytime you're using and manipulating light and making images or working with light. If you've ever taken a picture with your cell phone camera, that is an optical imaging system. If you go to the grocery store and you scan something with the barcode, you see a little laser light scanning, that's all optical technology making our everyday lives easier.
I didn't really know anything about optics until college. I took an Optics 101 class and I learned about why a rainbow always has the colors the way that it does, and why you see kind of a rainbow on an oil slick or why beetles kind of look the way they do and that was the first time I really connected scientific principles to nature and the way things work.
I work for Edmund Optics. They're a global company that is the world's largest supplier of optical components. We make filters, mirrors, lenses, and imaging systems, where it's multiple optics that are put together to image something, like a microscope.
In general, laser beam expanders are used for a lot of materials processing. So a lot of things that you use were cut by lasers. The cover on your cell phone or maybe the door of your car or anything like that that can be cut using laser light, but you have to be really precise about it.
This is a variable beam expander.
Beam expanders help you get a more precise focus for when you're doing all those types of cutting applications. I worked on the optical design, which is all of the optics that you can see within the beam expander, and then also the mechanical design, so all the metal that holds the optics in place. You send light in one side and it comes out larger on the other end. The larger you can make a laser beam, the tighter you can focus it.
Engineering moves society forward. The things that you use, the things that you rely on, the new technology that comes out that you want, that all relies on different fields of engineering. It's really cool to see something that you've created or something you've worked on then go be used out in the real world. That's what I love about engineering.
Almost all telescopes use mirrors to gather and focus the light from objects in the night sky. But mirrors reverse the image. So why use mirrors instead of lenses to focus the light?
The most important reason is that the optics (that is, the mirrors or lenses that focus light) of a good telescope must be nearly perfect. The mirror or lens must be just the right shape and the surface must be perfectly smooth and polished. In the case of a lens, even the inside must be perfect. Otherwise, the image appears distorted.
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