A North Carolina State University engineering professor has won the U.S. government’s top award for early-career scientists and engineers.
Dr. Michael Escuti, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, will receive the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers later this fall, the White House announced Monday. The awards program, established by President Bill Clinton in 1996, honors researchers for working at the frontiers of science and technology and serving the community through scientific leadership, public education or outreach.
Winners receive research grants of up to five years to support their work.
Escuti was honored for his pioneering development of liquid crystal “polarization gratings,” which consist of a thin layer of liquid crystal material on a glass plate. The White House also recognized him for educating students through collaborations with international academic teams and industries, as well as for outreach work in underserved communities.
Escuti’s research has shown how polarization gratings, as well as devices and applications based on them, can solve problems in optics that had been previously thought unsolvable. One result of the work is a very energy-efficient way of steering laser beams that is precise and relatively inexpensive. The research has potential applications in laser radar and free space communication, which uses lasers to transfer data between platforms – such as between satellites or between aircraft and soldiers on the battlefield. Escuti’s team, consisting of NC State students along with partner Boulder Nonlinear Systems Inc., has already delivered prototypes of the technology to the U.S. Air Force and is working on other applications.
Another result is a low-loss light switch, which inherently acts on all components of light rather than just the correctly polarized half, meaning that it is very transparent when it is open and very dark when closed. Other results include high-resolution spectral/polarization cameras, which enable compact and low-cost imaging beyond what our eyes can see for platforms such as aerial vehicles, satellites and biomedical imaging.
Escuti is commercializing his research through several industrial partnerships, including his own start-up company, ImagineOptix Corp., that has already prototyped a tiny, highly efficient projection display that could revolutionize displays on hand-held and mobile devices.
His work has resulted in a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award, three awarded patents and nine pending patents. He has also received $4.3 million in external research funding from NSF, and many other federal, state, and private sources.
Escuti received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Brown University in 2002 and joined the NC State faculty in 2004.