Seeing the Light

Tim White

White is a research scientist working in the field of photonics.

Tim White ’02 has not only seen the light, he’s developing technical solutions with it and receiving professional recognition for his work. White is a civilian Department of Defense research scientist in the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio.

His field is photonics, which he describes briefly as the use of light to communicate and control information. White leads a team of post-doctoral researchers and staff contractors who are pursuing the development of liquid crystal and polymer materials for Air Force applications.

His ability to translate the highly scientific into the understood is a skill he attributes to Central.

“The foundation of my career was built in the Central chemistry department,” White says. “Who I am today as an engineer and researcher is built from the basic skills that were taught to me in the classrooms and laboratory of the Vermeer Science Center. My Central education also facilitated the development of the ‘softer’ skills of writing and communicating—which engineers are notorious for not doing. My liberal arts background has enabled a lot for me.”

Following graduation, White completed a doctoral degree program in chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa, where his research was funded by the Air Force. That was his first connection to the military and led to his current position, where he collaborates regularly with academic researchers, industrial partners and defense contractors. He also gives outreach tours to public groups to explain what they do.

White derives a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction from the work he calls “mission-driven.”

“I’ve been given a lot of responsibility very quickly here and working on a wide range of topics with both short and long-term relevance,” he says.

“We are given a mission to work on relevant materials technologies to provide novel capabilities
to enable servicemen and women to do their jobs. We work on everything from the basic to mature sciences.”

And his work is getting noticed. Within the last year, White has received three professional, peer-selected awards: the Air Force Early Career Award, the SPIE Early Career Award and the American Chemical Society’s Cooperative Research Award in Applied Polymer Science.

The SPIE Award, from the optical sciences and engineering community, is given annually to an early career professional in recognition of significant and innovative technical contributions. For White, the award cited his “innovative work in the development of light-responsive materials and their employment as smart, remotely cued optically and mechanically adaptive devices” for displays and other applications.

The American Chemical Society award recognized White’s work with an industry partner “to address probably the toughest challenge facing the broader stimuli-responsive polymeric community – providing a commercially viable source of novel, highly tailorable stimuli response materials that are critical path enablers for commercial and militarily useful products.”

“I’ve been lucky to win and am humbled by the recognition by my peers,” White says. “I am fortunate to have a very hard-working and creative team of scientists to lead. I leverage my formative experience at Central in communicating a vision and direction to lead our research into the directions it needs to go.”

The native Iowan lives in the Dayton suburb of Centerville with spouse Jaymie Johnson White ’02 and their three young children. White, an all-America honoree in men’s golf and the 2002 Iowa Conference MVP, still finds time for golf, and the Whites are active in their church.

“The successes for myself and my Central friends prove that anything is possible,” White says. “Undergraduate education is the foundation. You get the requisite skills in your discipline to build and make your way.”

White adds with a laugh,” And there’s an element of luck and opportunity.”

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