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Optics major finds a community of like-minded students

kameron in lab

Kameron Tinkham in the Metrology Lab at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics. She used a white light interferometer  to explore properties of recycled cerium slurry used in optical finishing, so that American companies will be less reliant on Chinese suppliers of the rare earth metal. (Photo by J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester)

Is Kameron Tinkham ’18 glad she chose the University of Rochester?

“Absolutely,” she replies without a moment’s hesitation.

She’s pursuing her passion for math and physics as an optical engineering student through the University’s five-year GEAR master’s program (link to: ).

She’s conducting research at two nationally recognized facilities: The Institute of Optics and the Laboratory for Laser Energetics.

In her spare time, she is coordinator for the Off Broadway On Campus theatre group’s pit orchestra, and performs with it as a violinist. She engages in poi – the art of swinging tethered weights in rhythmic patterns – with the Juggling Club.

Above all, she’s found a sense of community with like-minded students.

“I really like that this school can provide me a word class education in optics that holds so much weight in the industry,” Tinkham explained. “But I don't think I would have come here if I didn’t like the ‘feel’ of the campus. One of the things that I really liked when I came here was the feeling that education is more of a team effort, rather than people fighting with each other for grades – a place where people would come together and work together.  I think that’s more representative of what you’re going to get in a workplace.”

The University is also a place where “nerds” feel welcomed, she added. “They have the knitting club that knits tree sweaters, and a quidditch team. Its wonderful to finally have friends and coworkers who have the same interests as I do.”

Tinkham says she’s always enjoyed science, and looked for a college to attend with that in mind. She attended a pre-college summer program at the Hajim School that included an exploration of optics. “I fell in love with it,” Tinkham said.

At LLE she’s explored properties of recycled cerium slurry used in optical finishing, so that American companies will be less reliant on Chinese suppliers of the rare earth metal. In Prof. Jannick Rolland’s lab at the Institute of Optics, she’s working on project using nodal aberration theory to explore the best ways to place elements in optical systems to reduce errors in the images they produce.

The Institute, the oldest of its kind in the nation, has awarded nearly half of all optics degrees granted in the United States. In addition to its strong academic and research programs, it brings top optics, imaging and photonics companies to campus each spring and fall through its Industrial Associates program. It is a great way for students and potential employers to get acquainted in a field in which college graduates are in high demand.

“IA is fantastic,” Tinkham said. “When I was a freshman I went just for the experience and they did business card workshops for us.  It was basically an introduction on how to network, which was fantastic.”  At a subsequent meeting, Tinkham met with a team manager from a nearby optics company and was offered a summer internship.

Tinkham’s goal is to finish her master’s degree, then get a job in industry doing lens design. Her preference would be to stay in Rochester, which has a long tradition of optics manufacturing. But optical designers are also in demand by such California-based companies as Samsung, Apple and Microsoft for their electronic devices, and by IMAX for its projection systems. “So there are a lot of opportunities,” she says.

“I would like to lead a team of engineers working on a group of problems for lithography systems or projection systems, something engaging and interesting.”

During the summer before her sophomore year, Tinkham spent two weeks as a peer advisor for high school students who, just as she had done, attended the Hajim School’s pre-college program, and for others who attended a Photon Camp at the Institute.

 “When I was in those programs, it was always wonderful to see college students excited about what they were doing. Now it was my turn to say ‘I love what I’m doing, I love going to this college, and I think this a good fit for you if you want to do optics and physics. ‘”

 kameron portrait