August 12, 2022

University Research & Tech Transfer

Trendsetters - Oct. 2005

Mike Vogel | 10/1/2005
Seeing the Light

In the roundabout way careers sometimes develop, being a teen drummer helped make Peter Delfyett a top researcher in ultrafast photonics, the use of bursts of light of less than a trillionth of a second.

Trustee chair professor, optics / University of Central Florida

PH.D.: City University of New York

RECREATION: Swimming, biking, some chess and the drums

DRUMMING HEROES: Elvin Jones, Billy Cobham and Lenny White

ALSO: Editor-in-chief, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics.

AWARDS: National Science Foundation's Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers awarded to the nation's top 20 young scientists; 2000 Black Engineer of the Year Award, Outstanding Alumnus Achievement category, from the Career Communications Group; 2000 Excellence in Graduate Teaching Award from UCF; 2001 Pegasus Professor Award, UCF's highest faculty honor.Finishing high school, Delfyett wanted to continue in music but had reservations about whether it would support him through life. As a compromise, the Queens, N.Y., native decided to study studio engineering. It happens that at the City University of New York, the closest he could get to that was electrical engineering. "At least in my mind," he recalls with wry humor, "in studio engineering, the instruments are electrical."

A math and science whiz, Delfyett took up photonics in graduate school. After five years at Bell Communications Research in New Jersey, he joined UCF in 1993. He has brought more than $10 million in research funding to UCF and holds 18 patents. One accomplishment: A semiconductor laser that transmits 1 trillion bits of information a second, the equivalent of 250,000 compressed digital TV channels. He wants to go even faster.

UCF has licensed several Delfyett patents to Raydiance, an Orlando startup. Delfyett envisions his technology being used in hand-held lasers to whiten teeth, remove tattoos and destroy kidney stones. Home use applications would include carving the Thanksgiving turkey, cutting wood and metal pipe and drilling holes in wallboard.

Delfyett, 46, plans to stay in research: "I still think my best role is to remain a professor at UCF and continue to develop intellectual property."

He remains a drummer, playing anything -- jazz, rock, R&B, disco, Latin. He and other UCF professors are in a band: The Quantum Beats.

An Early Jump

Assistant professor, otolaryngology / University of Miami

EDUCATION: Bachelor's, 1990, and M.D., 1995, UCLA; residency, University of Miami, completed in 2000; fellowship, head and neck oncology, completed in 2002, UM

FAMILY: Husband, Dr. John Deo, a Sylvester Cancer Center anesthesiologist, and a 2-year-old daughter

RECOGNITION: NIH Special Award, 2003With early detection, head and neck cancer could be wiped out in more than 80% of the half a million people afflicted with the disease. But symptoms rarely show until it's too late, and only 30% to 40% of those patients recover. Treatment can be disfiguring, and the attendant problems in speaking and swallowing can leave patients isolated, feeling uncomfortable at the prospect of going to a restaurant, for example.

Dr. Elizabeth Franzmann, a University of Miami medical school assistant professor and surgeon, wanted a practical method for early detection. In her research, Franzmann found that 70% to 80% of the head and neck cancer patients she tested had high levels of a particular molecule, CD 44, in their saliva compared to a control group of healthy people and people with head and neck ailments that weren't cancerous. Her breakthrough test requires no more than a patient swishing and gargling for five seconds with saline and spitting in a cup. The analysis can be done by just about any lab.

Female surgeons aren't common, and female head and neck surgeons are rarer still. But Franzmann, 37, a California native, found anatomy to be one of her best courses while a student and enjoys working with her hands. She specializes in removing tumors of the neck. "I love research," she says, but experiments can take months. Surgery is "a little bit creative, and at the end of the day you have something accomplished."

UM has applied for a patent on the test in Franzmann's and associate professor Vinata Lokeshwar's names and wants to commercialize it. Franzmann has applied for funding to do additional research on it to make it more effective. "We want to catch it early -- before you even have symptoms."

Joint Project

Since coming to the University of Florida last year, biomedical engineer Scott Banks has had a hand in applying for two patents and is readying a third. He is at work on a novel system combining robots, X-rays and detectors to produce images of bones, joints and tissue as patients walk, lift or climb stairs.

Assistant professor / UF Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering / Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation

EDUCATION: Bachelor's and master's, biomedical engineering, Case Western Reserve University; doctorate, mechanical engineering, MIT

FAMILY: Wife, Anne; kids, Matthew, 11, Jennifer, 8"It's been a blast," says Banks.

For Banks, the device will further his research on body joints, injuries, disease and surgical implants. But he also believes the system will be a commercially viable product for physicians. Outside of operating, doctors can only diagnose so much by palpating joints and watching patients move. "We want to be able to understand people moving dynamically under their own control," Banks says.

An Ohio native who as a youth was the rock drummer in a family of athletes, Banks gravitated toward his field in part because his father had a bad knee from college football. He has written on the biomechanics of hitting a baseball, but he is best known for developing a method now used by researchers globally to derive 3-D measurements from sequences of X-rays.

His new system would move beyond even that. The university hopes to find a business to partner with on the system.

Banks, 42, already has his robots tracking people's motion -- next will be hanging imaging gear from the robots. UF put Banks' concept in a program that teams undergraduate and graduate students from the business and engineering colleges with a volunteer CEO from outside the university to build an internal startup company. That leaves Banks free to continue research. He expects to finish a prototype next year.

Tags: Trendsetters, Around Florida

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