Kristy and Merrick DeWitt

Tell us about yourself

We are the DeWitts, Kristy and Merrick

Kristy: I have a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry from the University of Virginia, and a BS in Chemistry & Physics, with a minor Mathematics at Mary Washington College.

Merrick: I have a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry as well from Wayne State University, and a BS in Chemistry, from Lawrence Technological University.

Currently we are both working as program managers at the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).


When did you start working with lasers?

Kristy: I started working with lasers for research (presuming grocery store self-checkout kiosks and DVD players do not count) at the beginning of my graduate career at University of Virginia (UVA).  Between my graduate work, post-doc at the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST), and first job in a small laser-development company I have hands-on experience with a wide variety of laser systems, large frame gas lasers (excimer and CO2), solid state CW and pulsed lasers (YAG, YLF, and Ar+), dye lasers, ultrafast lasers and optical parametric amplifiers (OPAs), and fiber lasers.  In either a hands-on or laser program oversight capacity, I have worked with lasers for 16 years.

Merrick: My graduate research at Wayne State focused first on laser-based mass spectrometry for rapid DNA sequencing in 1991.  Challenges we faced in solving that problem led to the fabrication of a chirped-pulse amplified ultrashort laser that I used in studies of fundamental interactions of light and matter and intramolecular redistribution of energy in excited molecules leading to ionization and fragmentation.  During graduate research, I used excimer lasers to pump dye lasers for the DNA sequencing studies. The chirped pulse amplification system included argon-ion lasers to pump femtosecond lasers to seed the amplifiers and neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum garnet lasers as the pump sources for the amplifiers.  In my post-doctoral studies at the University of Virginia and later in work at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, similar ultrashort pulsed laser systems evolved to include diode-pumped, neodymium-doped yttrium lithium fluoride lasers as much better pump sources for both the femtosecond seed and amplifier lasers as well OPOs and OPAs to increase the range of available laser wavelengths for research, from extreme UV to THz.


How did you become the LSO?

Kristy: The first company I worked at after my postdoc was developing prototype laser wind speed and direction indicators.  When the company began selling the prototypes commercially, they needed someone to make laser emission measurement and prepare product reports to apply for FDA accession numbers.

Merrick: I worked for a company developing prototype LIDAR systems for detection of wind speed and direction, and for landing assistance for helicopters in low visibility conditions.  When the company began selling the prototypes commercially, they needed someone to make laser emission measurements and prepare product reports to apply for FDA accession numbers.


Do you like being the LSO? How has becoming certified benefited you in your career?

Kristy: I have found my LSO certification to be very useful and beneficial to my career, even as I have changed my role with respect to laser work considerably.  In my first position I was directly involved in the development of new commercial laser products, so my LSO duties were perhaps the most “conventional”, measuring laser output parameters and preparing product reports for FDA registration.  As I have transitioned to a program oversight role, first as a technical support contractor at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and then IARPA and now as a government program manager at IARPA, I no longer make direct measurements of laser products.  However, I use my LSO knowledge to evaluate laser performance characteristics and safety plans in proposals to the government, and in test plans for systems under development.  Having the credentials of a certified LSO adds weight to my evaluation of laser safety in both proposed and ongoing government projects, in the projects I directly manage, and other projects for which I provide technical subject matter expertise.

Merrick: Following work at the LIDAR company, which sponsored my first CLSO classes and certification, I began supporting research efforts at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in a variety of optical and laser based technologies for which my experience as a CLSO was critical.  In one specific case, a program using lasers to detect air disturbances required approvals to operate outdoors by the Laser Clearinghouse, a group of military laser safety personnel who assure safe use of lasers outside the lab.  Being able to speak in the “language” of laser safety has always made those interactions much easier than they can be. Other work with projects involving laser guide stars for adaptive optics correction for telescopes and the related safety concerns is another example of how both my experience with lasers and my experience and certification as a CLSO has continued to benefit my work.  In fact, in the job I recently left at Parsons, I was the Laser Safety Officer for my division; I oversaw both the safety certifications for and was involved in much of the fundamental research and design work of the portable camera systems that used IR laser illuminators for spectral scene discrimination at night.

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