Ken Gross
Undergrad: Univeristy of Oregon, Eugene, OR - Physics
Track: Optics
Internship: nLight
Currently at nLight



What was your undergraduate institution?
University of Oregon!!! Go Ducks!
How did you find yourself at Oregon?  What about the program attracted you?
I initially came to the UO for my undergrad, randomly pointing my finger at the map after my military service was up!

What was the intensive summer like for you?
The summer was great. Being able to cram all that coursework and labwork into a single summer session was definitely intense, but in the end well worth it. It really shows what a person is capable of when given a week's worth of lecture, homework, labs and writeups almost every single day.
Where did you do your internship?
My internship (and subsequent hiring) was with nLIGHT Photonics in Vancouver, WA. nLIGHT is the industry leader in efficiency for solid state diode lasers ranging in wavelengths from 355nm to >2000nm. We also have our own fiber production facility which we use to create our own active fibers, tapered fibers, and passive step index and gradient index fibers of varying lengths and core diameters. Our current advances have been in fiber lasers, which use our extremely efficient diode lasers as pump sources, and our own custom active fibers for the gain medium in the fiber section of the laser.

Without giving away any proprietary info, what was your internship like?  What were you responsible for?  What was a typical day like?
My internship was very intense, as I was also taking a class each term at PSU to complete my degree. The first project I was placed on was designed to perform an in-depth investigation of various misalignments of our PEARL diode laser with fibers of various designs, and how the misalignment affects beam quality at the output of the fiber. The results from that 4-month investigation resulted in my assisting in developing a novel gradient fiber profile (leading to patent application) which we have since built in our fiber facilities and are currently testing. I spent the last several months of my internship in our application laboratory, where I was basically given a customer sample of some material (not always disclosed to us) and final processing requirements. My job was to develop a recipe using one or more of our lasers to process the material as the customer requested. Usually the samples were a new composition or new material for various industries, including PV processing, thin film processing (for touch screen applications) and microcircuit manufacturing. The last 2 months of my internship focused on a single project (which I am still pursuing) for thin film transistor backplane production for high definition displays. 

My typical day consisted of 5-6 hours of laboratory work, processing the samples or designing and conducting experiments. I led several team meetings each week to discuss current results and future development plans, and I usually had an hour or two per day of data analysis, internal document production and background research (as I had to learn about some rather exotic materials to know how to correctly process them). My classes were typically in the evening, so two or three days a week I would have an evening class at Portland State University, with the majority of my evenings being dedicated to homework and studying.
Did you feel the program prepared you for the internship?  In what ways?
I felt the program definitely prepared me for my internship, as I was exposed to so many areas during the summer that I already had a good baseline of knowledge when I was asked to obtain certain data as an intern. The lab exposure during the summer was vital, as it introduced me to many forms of optical analysis and instrumentation that I otherwise would probably have not known of prior to the internship.
How did your internship prepare you for your current position/career path?

The internship could have not been any better in getting me into my current position. Being directly introduced into the industry is a huge advantage of this program. Even if I had not been hired on at nLIGHT at the end of my internship, I would have had enough exposure and history to get myself in a position at another company if needed. The ability for me to 'direct' where I wanted to have my internship was huge. Very rarely does the opportunity to interview with over half a dozen companies in a single day ever come up. I am pretty positive that without the master's Internship, I would not be where I am today.