Meet Peter Delfyett, Laser Pioneer, Salsa Dancer

Meet Peter Delfyett, Laser Pioneer, Salsa Dancer

Dr. Peter Delfyett has earned national recognition for cutting-edge research and leadership by inspiring a new generation of scientists while at UCF the past 20 years.

As a professor in the College of Optics and Photonics, he holds appointments in UCF’s electrical engineering and physics departments. He also holds the titles of trustee chair and Pegasus Professor, the highest honor a UCF faculty member can earn. Delfyett has been granted 35 patents and now is working on the development of lasers that produce many colors simultaneously for applications in laser-based radar, optical communications, optical search engines and other processes.

This salsa dancer, however, also understands the need for art and science to work together.

When did you realize you wanted to work in the field of optics and photonics?

I was looking through the course catalog of electrical engineering courses in my second year at The City College of New York (1978-79), trying to get an idea of what elective courses I could take. I saw the course “Introduction to Lasers” which, in the description, said that it would cover the basic concepts of fiber optic communication. This was just emerging as a new field in the “communications” area of electrical engineering, and I thought to myself that if I were able to get an expertise in that area, it would carry me through a long career.

What accomplishment have you been most proud of while at UCF?

There are several, such as being able to develop semiconductor diode-based lasers (laser-pointer technology) that 1) produce the world’s shortest pulses from a laser diode; 2) produce the world’s highest power from a laser diode; 3) generated the most data from a single laser diode, and 4) generated an optical timing signal that is the most accurate ever generated from a laser diode.

While these are recognized as record-breaking levels of performance, some of the most important accomplishments I’m most proud of is helping new young students become young shining stars in the field of optics and photonics. There is nothing better than knowing you have truly helped another person achieve levels of greatness that perhaps they never knew they could achieve.

What do you like about your job at UCF?

There is something new every day, and being able to work with young energetic students.

What do you tell middle and high school students to interest them in science and engineering?

Many young students always want to become either entertainers or athletes. I tell young students that, in my case, while I am a bit of a musician – I play drums – I’ll never be as famous as Michael Jackson; and while I used to run track, I’ll never be as fast as Michael Johnson, who at one time held records in the 400 meter, 200 meter and mile relay; and while I play basketball, I’ll never be as tall as Michael Jordan nor play as well. But in science and engineering, I can guarantee that you will do something that no one else in the universe has done, and you will be credited with that discovery. And the field of science and engineering pays very well.

What are some of your most significant patents?

The most significant patents, for me, can be interpreted in two ways: 1) the ideas which required true “out of the box” thinking to make an idea work, and 2) the patents that have resulted in commercial products. On the second front, the patents that are the most significant are those that relate to the generation and amplification of short burst of light. Several of these patents were licensed to a start-up company (Raydiance) that is using lasers for advanced manufacturing techniques in making fuel injectors and stents that go inside arteries to help maintain good blood flow.

What have been the biggest changes you’ve noticed at UCF in your time here?

The biggest changes at UCF are obviously the size. When I got here in 1993, there were about 23,000 students. Now the student body is nearly 60,000. In addition, in 1993, the concept of UCF having a medical school was unheard of, but owing to the vision and perseverance of President Hitt, UCF graduated its first medical students this month.

How important is the relationship between art and science?

The arts are very important to science. In the field of the arts, students are taught to be creative – this is very difficult to teach in the sciences and engineering. Science and engineering are typically taught in a way that is very rigorous and well defined; creativity is very hard to teach this way. However, creativity is the most important driver in science and engineering. That’s because, in order to create new knowledge and new technologies, one needs to be creative and think out of the box. I call this “on your head thinking.” People typically attack problems “head-on,” but if you were to look at the world by standing on your head, literally, you will see things, and things will appear very differently.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

When I’m not working at/for UCF, I train with a salsa dance team at Salsa Heat Dance Studios, where we perform choreographed dance routines. The most interesting thing is that many UCF students go there to learn how to dance the several different styles of Latin dance. When some of the students who know me see me there, they say: “Doctor D, what are you doing here!?” Of course, I smile and say: “The same thing you’re doing here.”