Brad Deutsch ’04 Applies Rollins Research to a Ph.D. and Beyond

February 23, 2012

Bradley Deutsch
When physics major Brad Deutsch ’04 left Rollins to pursue a Ph.D. in optics at the University of Rochester, he didn’t worry for a second that his liberal arts education had put him at a disadvantage—quite the opposite actually. Having spent hours working side-by-side with faculty in the lab or participating in the Student-Faculty Collaborative Scholarship Program, Deutsch felt incredibly confident about his ability to pursue his doctorate and subsequent career in optics research. Eight years later, Deutsch has now earned his Ph.D. and has joined the nano optics group of the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester, one of the finest optics research and education facilities in the country.

How did your experiences doing research at Rollins influence your doctoral research at the University of Rochester?

At Rollins, I discovered that I liked experimental work and became confident in the lab. I learned to keep a lab book and found a balance between acting confidently and carefully.‬

The transition from acoustics to optics is quite easy, since light and sound both follow wave physics. In Archibald Granville Bush Professor of Natural Sciences Thom Moore’s group, we used interferometry to look at acoustical vibrations. In my Ph.D. work, I continued with interferometry, finding ways to adapt it to nano optics.

In my time at Rollins, I learned to write programs in a popular scientific language called LabView, which enabled me to create custom software for a near-field microscope.

Can you share a little about the two papers you published at Rollins?

‪In Moore’s musical acoustics group, we used laser light to visualize vibrations in musical instruments. This helped us to answer specific questions about instrument design, to sculpt an understanding of neglected or unusual instruments, and to settle controversies between musicians and scientists. (For the record, musicians are almost always right.‬)
One of the most basic acoustical systems is a flat, circular plate. When we play a musical tone with a speaker, the plate responds by vibrating. In the first paper, we looked at what happens to the vibrations as we introduced small irregularities in the plate and derived a theory to describe the data.

The natural progression of this work was to look at orchestral crotales: thick cymbal-like instruments laid out like a keyboard and played with soft mallets. We were interested in how the tone and timbre of the instrument changed as aspects of the crotale were modified. In my second paper, we made a visual catalog of the vibrational modes of the crotales and presented a theory for how they could be better tuned to the Western musical scale.

Rumor has it your research influenced Ziljan's design of its symbols’ crotales? Is there any truth to that?

‪Orchestaral crotales are played like a keyboard with soft mallets, and each one is tuned to a certain note. Traditionally, Zildjian makes them out of brass plates and changes the radius of the plate to tune the instruments.‬

But crotales have a small raised hat where they get clamped to their stand, and we found that the radius of the hat has a strong influence on the tone of the instrument. By using different hat radii, the instruments can be better tuned.

We discovered some time later that Zildjian released a new line of crotales in which the hats were tuned along with the plate radii. Looks like they read our paper.

What made you choose a liberal arts school when you were shopping for colleges?  Why not a big research institution?

I didn’t really know what I wanted in a college, but I had the sense that a good student-to-faculty ratio was important. That turned out to be right. The individual attention that students get at Rollins helps tremendously with academics, and there is a valuable opportunity to be a leader in the student community.‬

The absolute number one reason to go to a liberal arts college as a science major is to learn to communicate. I often tell undergraduate students that no matter what they end up doing, they will need to write about it. After college, one can’t expect much support in writing or making oral presentations. I have talked to optics industry leaders who have consistently told me that they value an employee’s ability to communicate more than his or her creativity or devotion to work.

There are advantages to going to larger institutions as well. On average, physics majors take fewer physics and math classes at Rollins, which can mean more study time required for the physics GRE and playing a bit of catch-up in the first semester of graduate school. I found that this wasn’t a big limitation, and that the “extras” I learned at Rollins more than compensated.

What are you working on now in your new role in Lukas Novotny’s nano optics group?

I finished my Ph.D. work in October in the ‬nano optics group at the Institute of Optics. In nano optics, we are interested in light-matter interactions on the scale of nanometers, which is smaller that standard light microscopes can see.

In my thesis, I developed a way to interpret light emission from samples on this size scale. My work has applications in detecting contaminants in ultrapure water, as well as in the development of optical antennas—that is, antennas that work with visible light instead of radio waves.

By Kristen Manieri

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