A UCF researcher has received one of the most prestigious prizes in optics for his development of a technique that has become a standard laboratory tool for measuring optical properties.

Eric Van Stryland, professor of optics, is the joint winner of the R.W. Wood Prize, endowed by the Xerox Corporation and presented by the Optical Society of America. The prize is shared with Mansoor Sheik-Bahae, formerly of UCF’s Center for Research and Education in Optics and Lasers, and now a physicist at the University of New Mexico.

The award is given annually in recognition of an outstanding discovery, scientific achievement or invention in the field of optics that opens a new era of research or significantly expands an existing one.

Bahaa Saleh, dean of UCF’s College of Optics & Photonics, said the Wood Prize is an honor that only the most dedicated scientists receive and he is especially proud that Van Stryland is the third faculty member from the college to receive the award.

Professor Demetri Christodoulides received the award in 2011 and George Stegeman, now emeritus professor of optics, was chosen in 2003.

“We are pleased that the Optical Society of America recognizes the vast talent we have here at UCF,” Saleh said.

Van Stryland and Sheik-Bahae developed the Z-scan technique that allows researchers to better understand the interaction of high-intensity light with materials and discover new nonlinear optical phenomena. Scientists from all over the world now use this technique to easily measure how materials respond to laser light by simply measuring the transmittance of a material sample as it is moved in and out of the focus of a laser beam.

Using Z-scan measurements, scientists and engineers have been able to select and design materials that can be used to control and manipulate light in specific ways, leading to advances in optics and lasers.

Their technique was published in the IEEE Journal of Quantum Electronics in 1989 and remains the most highly cited paper in that journal’s history.

Van Stryland said the award would not have been possible without the support of longtime UCF collaborators, including MJ Soileau, vice president for research & commercialization, and David Hagan, associate dean for academic programs and professor of optics and physics.

“I am greatly honored to win the R.W. Wood Prize and want to be sure to thank, in addition to my colleagues, all the graduate students, post-docs, research scientists and visitors who have taught me so much over the years,” Van Stryland said.

The ability to manipulate light through materials opens up myriad possibilities for applications. Currently, optical communications are via fiber optics where short pulses of light carry information. These pulses are currently detected electronically and sent to the proper destinations. New research is showing that electronics in many areas can be replaced by “smart” optical materials that will greatly speed up communications and allow more information capacity. There are many examples of how specially engineered materials are finding uses in energy, defense, and medicine.

Van Stryland is one of UCF’s most decorated scientists. He is a fellow and past president of the 19,000-member Optical Society of America and a past member of its board of directors. He is also a senior member of the Laser Institute of America, and a fellow of IEEE LEOS, the American Physical Society and SPIE. In 2003 he was awarded UCF’s Pegasus Professor award.