In the first of a recurring series profiling people and science, we focus on someone close to home: John Rodriguez, a Research and Development Laboratory Associate at Ocean Optics.
John is something of a Renaissance man, having spent more than a decade as a classical musician in New York City before changing careers and pursuing his dream to become an engineer. His path has taken him from playing the double bass with musicians including Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma to studying photonic science and engineering at the University of Central Florida. In his role at Ocean Optics, John helps to develop, build and test spectroscopic OEM components and systems for use across a wide range of industries.
Q: What first inspired your interest in science?
JR: My grandfather, Vernon Fowler. He was an electrical engineer who did a good deal of optical research with GTE Laboratories [now Verizon] during his career. I discovered this just recently, but my grandfather worked on a triggering project right after college in 1949 that placed third in a competition with his mathematical laser triggering model. One of the first things that I did at Ocean Optics was testing a laser that didn’t have a triggering system, so I had to make one.
Q: What has been the most rewarding part of your educational experience?
JR: Being able to share my knowledge of science in educational outreach programs like Chemistry for Kids and the National Science Foundation’s STEM Summer Institute.
My favorite moment came from tutoring a student in developmental math. We spent a few weeks of lessons trying to get her to understand the concept of negative numbers. We drew number lines, discussed concepts like debt, and everything else a teacher could try. One day she finally got the concept. Overcoming that stumbling block gave her the confidence she needed in herself to get through the math requirements for her degree.
Q: What surprises you about science and technology today?
JR: How much of a factor resources are in advancing technology. There are so many great ideas out there, but we’re at a point that we are seriously considering mining asteroids in order to get more access to resources.
Q: Where do you envision your professional career taking you?
JR: I’d like to develop projects using cutting edge technologies that can elegantly solve complicated problems and simplify the way people do things in their lives. I’d really love to be a part of the movement that makes photonics as commonly understood in the world as electronics.
Q: What has been the best part of your experience at Ocean Optics?
JR: Definitely the people. Everyone here is so competent and capable at what they do, and I get to work with all of these amazing people to help solve very real, very complicated problems.