Grand Challenges Scholar

Anis Idrizovic focuses on challenges of sustainability

February 16, 2022

Anis Idrizovic with members of ESWe-board.
Anis Idrizovic, second from right at back, with other members of the Engineers for a Sustainable World e-board.

Optical engineering major wants to be at the forefront of R&D

Class year: 2022
Major: Optical Engineering
Challenge: Engineering the Tools for Scientific Discovery

It’s nice to have knowledge. But the real question is what are you going to do with it? Are you going to take research in new directions? Are you going to solve real world problems?

Anis Idrizovic portraitThat’s a message Anis Idrizovic ’22 has heard throughout his formative years. From his parents back home in Bijelo Polje, Montenegro. From his instructors at the United World College he attended in Freiburg, Germany, for his final two years of high school.

So, when the University of Rochester optical engineering student heard about the Grand Challenges Scholars program, he immediately took an interest.

The program invites undergraduates to pick one of 14 “grand challenges” of the 21st century identified by the National Academy of Engineering.

Students tailor their academic experiences to address the challenge they’ve chosen by engaging in five key competencies: research, entrepreneurship, interdisciplinary studies, global experience, and service.

“Coming into college, I really did want to have some kind of purpose, some kind of problem to address,” Idrizovic says. As it turns out, “Engineering Tools of Discovery,” one of the GCS grand challenges, aptly encompasses the multiple student projects, hands-on lab opportunities, and internships that have enriched Idrizovic’s undergraduate experience.

“The Grand Challenges Scholars program helped inform that and provided a very good platform to tie those experiences together,” he says.

Building a base of skills and experiences

Idrizovic says he chose the University of Rochester because it offers “great engineering programs and amazing research opportunities,” welcomes international students, and is just the right size to foster a close-knit sense of community. He quickly discovered that Meliora, the University motto meaning ‘ever better,’ is taken seriously. “I like the idea you’re in this together, you support each other, you challenge each other,” Idrizovic says.

He experienced that sense of camaraderie right away, rowing for two years with the varsity crew team. “That really did shape my experience here,” Idrizovic says. “Pushing myself both in the classroom and on the water made me more resilient, more hardworking, and made me focus on long-term goals,” he says. 

During his first year he also found a perfect outlet to pursue his growing interest in sustainability, which began during his studies at the United World College. The Engineers for a Sustainable World student chapter at Rochester provided him an opportunity to do “really cool hands-on projects, actually taking what we have learned in the class, and putting it into practice,” says Idrizovic, who served as the group’s co-president during his sophomore and junior years.

For example, the group collected waste vegetable oil from the University’s dining halls, then tested it with catalysts and different processes in labs to see if it would be feasible to convert the oil into biofuel.

“It was very interdisciplinary, five or 10 people in a room, trying out ideas, trying to think of new approaches. That was the most exciting part. It taught us how to do a project,” Idrizovic says.

His growing proficiency in optics led to multiple opportunities to explore the GCS challenge of “engineering tools of discovery.” For a class in lens design taught by Julie Bentley, for example, he decided to address the problem of plastic pollution in oceans. Idrizovic designed a dual camera device that could be carried by a drone above the ocean’s surface. One camera is used for navigation while an infrared camera captures thermal images of the ocean’s surface that could detect regions where plastics have accumulated.

As an undergraduate research assistant in the lab of Geunyoung Yoon, professor of ophthalmology and optics, Idrizovic developed an initial iteration of handheld device that could be used in place of bulkier wavefront sensors to calibrate individual laser beams on an optical bench.

During a DAAD-Rise fellowship, conducted remotely during the summer of 2020 with a research team at the University of Kaiserslautern, Idrizovic helped develop and was coauthor of a research paper about a physical model of full-field time-domain optical coherence tomography. The technique could be used to measure inner textures of flexible layered samples of materials used in aircraft and other industrial products.

And, during an internship at Synopsis Optical Design Solutions this summer, Idrizovic developed macros for the company’s lens design software to automatically check and warn a user if a design will pose fabrication problems.

Ready to take his skill set “to the next level”

Idrizovic plans to pursue a PhD in optics that would “take what I’ve done as an undergraduate-- build upon the base I built in optical design, optical testing, optical fabrication and a bit of biomedical optics—and take it to the next level. And really explore the field a bit more.”

Long term, he would like work in the optical industry “at the forefront of R&D (research and development), tackling some of these grand challenges, developing the tools of discovery I have been focusing on,” Idrizovic says.

Projects addressing sustainability are high on his bucket list.

“Maybe developing a new plastic detection lens, or spillage detection satellite cameras, or really cool new microscopes that let us see things we couldn’t see before,” he says.

“I want to be at the forefront and tackle some of the big problems that we face.”

 See Idrizovic's poster  describing how he fulfilled the GCS competencies.