Spotlight: Alumni

Todd Irgang

Todd Irgang was an undergrad in the U-M Mathematics program when he attended the Climate & Space R.E.U. program between his junior and senior years. His program advisor, former AOSS (now CLASP) research scientist Wib Skinner was impressed enough with his work to offer him a position applying thin film optical coatings in the Coating Research and Production lab. “During that time I did coatings for Fabry-Perot etalon plates that were used in the 1st generation Doppler Lidar, and also for a Wood’s Filter for use in the Hubble Space Telescope.”

Todd developed a strong interest in optics, and after earning his BS in Mathematics from U-M (’92), Skinner and another research scientist, John Clarke, offered him a spot in the department. He accepted and found himself with a number of projects to choose from. “I…chose to work on the lidar due to its strong focus on optics (pun intended).

The lidar choice makes sense when he recalls what set him on his path. “I took Physics my freshman year of high school, and we got to use a laser for an experiment. The intense red of the HeNe (helium–neon laser) beam and the speckle pattern on the wall got me interested in the science behind it and how to make it. I liked science before this, but this really sealed the deal.”

Todd worked on the first- and second-generations of the University of Michigan Doppler Lidar system. These instruments both measured wind speed, direction, and aerosol content as a function of height. “The second-generation instrument was originally designed by Prof. [Emeritus] Paul Hays, and was meant to be a ground-based prototype for an instrument he wanted to put on a satellite for measuring wind speed and direction at points all around the globe. My dissertation centered around simplifying the design to make it accomplishable, and then measuring winds with it.”

He went on to earn an MS (’94) and a PhD (’00) from Climate & Space in Atmospheric and Space Science. The interest and experience in optics paid off, and Todd works as an optics design engineer and technical specialist at Rebo Lighting and Electronics. “After designing and building the second generation lidar, I decided that my main interest was in optics design, and now I mostly design interior and small exterior lamps for vehicles. It was mainly that hands-on experience that prepared me for this position.”

Todd’s advice for undergraduates? “Do what makes you happy.”