Innovator of Education in Optics Rick Trebino Wins the 2019 SPIE Maria J. Yzuel Educator Award

The Georgia Tech professor is cited for outstanding contributions to pioneering educational practices in optics, among other recognitions

05 February 2019

Rick Trebino Wins 2019 SPIE Maria J. Yzuel Educator Award

SPIE President Jim Oschmann, left, and Professor Maria Yzuel, right, present Rick Trebino with the 2019 SPIE Maria J. Yzuel Educator Award

BELLINGHAM, Washington, USA and CARDIFF, UK - SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics presented SPIE Fellow and Professor of Physics at the Georgia Institute of Technology Rick Trebino with its 2019 SPIE Maria J. Yzuel Educator Award yesterday for outstanding contributions to optics education. Trebino was recognized at the SPIE Fellows Luncheon during the Society's annual Photonics West Symposium in San Francisco.

Trebino, who is also the chair of Ultrafast Optical Physics at Georgia Tech and a Georgia Research Alliance-Eminent Scholar, has previously been a laser physicist and principal member of the technical staff at Sandia National Laboratories. In 2009, he was a co-chair of the Commercial and Biomedical Applications conference at Photonics West.

Trebino is well-known - and well-regarded - for his medical diagnostic inventions as well as for the ultrashort-pulse measurement techniques he developed and named with wit as well as with a scientist's appreciation for taxonomy: FROGs, BOAs, TADPOLEs, STRIPED FISH, and GRENOUILLE. Trebino won the 1999 SPIE Harold E. Edgerton Award in High-Speed Optics for FROG (Frequency-Resolved Optical-Gating), and the BOA (Bother-Free Optimized Arrangement) Pulse Compressor was the winner of an SPIE and Photonics Spectra Prism Award.

Today's award, however, recognizes the tremendous contributions that Trebino has made to optics education in the form of the first textbook on ultrashort-pulse measurement, his innovative short-course instruction at conferences, and the creation of high-quality teaching tools in the form of freely available slides and lectures for undergraduate and graduate educators and their students. Trebino's playful sense of humor and clear communication style carry through to his teaching materials, which are colorful, self-contained, filled with detailed illustrations and animations, and include elegant and intuitive mathematical derivations.

"Rick must have invested thousands of hours in the honing of this teaching material over the years, and to give this away as he does for the benefit of the entire optics community is simply remarkable," says Federico Capasso, SPIE Fellow and Robert L. Wallace Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard University.

All of Trebino's teaching material is accessible for free via his website. Professors from all over the world have stories about contacting Trebino for permission to use his slides in their courses, and students report that Trebino's lectures are so useful that, as students, they often ignore their textbooks altogether. His lectures have been translated into Spanish, French, Chinese, Portuguese, and partially into Arabic.

SPIE Member Mikhail Kats, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of Wisconsin-Madison, benefitted from Trebino's open-source teaching materials during his first hectic semester when he was setting up his lab and starting his research program. He found that Trebino's free material was much better than any other teaching materials he could find: "Rick's notes are possibly the best free resource for optics education at the undergraduate and early graduate level."

Trebino continues to develop teaching innovations and is currently working on a new textbook that will consist of open-source and free lectures and slides for use on tablets and mobile platforms.
"The Maria J. Yzuel Educator Award rewards two decades of good will and altruistic contributions to the international optics community by Rick Trebino that have had tremendously positive effects for educators and students alike," says Anderson Gomes, Universidade Federal of Pernambuco, Brazil. "It is also a springboard for his next project to make next-generation educational material freely available to students worldwide, particularly in the world's poorer areas, where it is most needed."

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