Joanna Casson

Tell us about yourself

My name is Joanna Casson. I have a bachelor’s degree in physics from Bryn Mawr College and a M.S. in electrical engineering from the University of New Mexico.

I have been an LSO since 2004. In 2008, I appointed the SME for laser safety at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where I work in the Physical Chemistry and Applied Spectroscopy Group of the Chemistry Division. I received my CLSO certification in March 2017.

When did you start working with lasers?

My senior research thesis at Bryn Mawr was on laser instabilities. After graduation, I worked for a year at Oak Ridge National Laboratory documenting undesirable mode characteristics in a CO2 laser. I have used lasers for experimental research in a variety of areas at LANL since 1996.

How did you become the LSO?

I became an LSO in 2004 shortly after a laser accident in my division shut down all laser experiments at LANL for a period of time. I was one of several Chemistry Division laser users who decided to become LSOs so that we could better help other laser users in our groups, divisions, and at LANL. Although at the time there was no LANL requirement to have any practical laser experience to be an LSO, many of us felt that that having an LSO with this experience would allow for better insight into how to apply laser safety principles to an experiment without hindering the researcher. I had been vice-chair of the LANL Laser Safety Committee (LSC) for a number of years. When the chair retired, I was elected chair of the LSC and appointed LANL’s SME for Laser Safety.

Do you like being the LSO? What do you feel are the LSO’s challenges today?

I enjoy being an LSO. It gets me out into the different laboratories across LANL and enables me to learn more about the variety of research taking place around the laboratory. The safety culture at LANL is very strong. It is critical that researchers be able to accomplish their goals while still working within the necessary safety envelope. It is important to me to have knowledgeable LSOs at LANL who can help find ways to conduct experiments safely.
How has becoming certified benefited you in your career?

I have only recently become certified, but I believe it will help add credibility to what I contribute in the various ANSI and EFCOG subcommittees of which I am a member.

Debra Miller

Tell us about yourself

My name is Debra Miller. I was born in New York and lived on a small island near Manhattan. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy demolished the area including my childhood home. I moved to Augusta, GA, with my parents and brother after my father was laid off after the completion of the Twin Towers construction in the early 70’s and started working at the local plant. My mother was the “All-American” domestic engineer raising two children and taking care of the household. My brother, John David, is a research chemist in Spartanburg, SC. He lives there with his wife Shelley, a nurse anesthetist, and his son, Benjamin. I lived in Augusta until 2008, when I remarried and moved to Lawrenceville, GA, with my husband, Eric, and son, Michael. We are now living in Braselton, GA.

I completed the nursing program at Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC, with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. My career started on the medical-surgical floor for a year, then transferred to the operating room (OR) and has been there ever since. I have learned over the years, “Never say Never.” I have been an operating room nurse for 27 years and I cannot imagine doing anything else. I am currently certified in three areas, CNOR for the OR, CURN for Urology, and, of course, CMLSO for laser. I also teach BLS (CPR) and have for the last 18 years to my peers. In my spare time, I enjoy gardening, reading, singing, music and, of course, my four-legged children, Muffin, Daisy and Emma.

When did you start working with lasers and how did you become the LSO?

I started with lasers in 2004 when Vangie Dennis taught the CMLSO class. The hospital I worked at the time wanted to start a laser program and since I worked in the Urology arena with the Holmium Laser frequently, I was chosen to be the Laser Safety Officer. At first it was difficult, but the knowledge from my mentors and LIA, AORN practice guidelines, OSHA, Joint Commission standards, and support from management turned intra-operative practices around. It was more difficult getting the physicians on board, trying to follow policies that were never enforced until now. Having administration support and taking your LSO practice to a patient safety issue, and use of risk management made a difference by lessening the physician’s resistance.

I currently have the privilege to practice my “calling” at Northeast Georgia Medical Center at Braselton as the LSO for the facility. I realize the great measures Northeast Georgia Medical center takes to ensure patient safety and associate education. It is truly a pleasure to work with an administration and supervisors that take laser safety practice seriously and the intra-departmental collaboration making it all happen. I county myself blessed to be a part of an excellent team of people and to LIA and BLS for their continuing work.

How has becoming certified benefited you in your career?

Being certified gave the facility validation for the program and me the courage to continue my studies and maintain a good standing. I am more of apatient safety advocate than before. I feel as though I can make a difference. Patients are more at ease when I tell them I’m the “laser” nurse and will be taking care of them.

We want to thank Debra for working with us on very short notice to provide a Featured CMLSO profile for this issue of the BLS News & Review. For those who attended ILSC this past March, you may remember that Deb assisted BLS and LIA on-site, as well as presented “Titles and Tantrums, How is Your Aim”. 

Kay Ball

Tell us about yourself

I am Kay Ball, PhD, RN, CNOR, CMLSO, FAAN

I have a Ph.D. in Health Related Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, MSA (Masters in Science of Administration) from Central Michigan University, and BSN (Bachelors in Science of Nursing) from Otterbein University, Westerville, OH

I have been a Professor of Nursing at Otterbein University since 2010. I am also a perioperative nurse educator and consultant; I work with perioperative nurses, professional organizations, healthcare facilities, industry, and legislative groups.

When did you start working with lasers?

In 1985, when I was hired as the Administrative Director at Grant Laser Center.

Why did you become certified?

Since the 4th edition of my book, Lasers: The Perioperative Challenge, will be published in 2017, I thought I had better take the certification exam to give me more validity.  This was long overdue and I’m embarrassed that it took me so long to carve out time to take the exam.  My book is often used to help study for the certification exam and I’m now very proud to be among those who are CMLSOs.

I enjoy being a CMLSO as this helps to add validity to my work in laser education.  Just like being CNOR (certified nurse in the operating room), I feel that certification is a critical part of my nursing career to help define my focus and demonstrate my excellence.

How has becoming certified benefited you in your career?

I have gained more recognition as an expert in laser technology.  Being certified has authenticated and legitimized the specialty of laser technology in my career.

Jerry Bowles

Tell us about yourself

I am Jerry Bowles, I have a BA in Physics, from Central Washington University.

I work for The Boeing Company, Radiation Health Protection Group, in Seattle, WA.

When did you start working with lasers?

I started working with lasers in 1989 as the “the Laser guy”, and have been working laser safety for twenty eight years; the last 13 years as a CLSO.

How did you become the LSO?

I was hired into Boeing in 1989 to oversee lasers in the Puget Sound area. The company reorganized in the early nineties and I became the company laser safety SME (Subject Matter Expert). I then earned my certification in February 2004.

Do you like being the LSO? What do you feel are the LSO’s challenges today?

I have had the opportunity to be involved with laser safety in an industrial, research and military environment. I have been able to participate in a lot of interesting projects over the years.

Developing and providing training to a wide range of laser users has been educational for me as well, I think making me a better LSO. Providing training to all levels of laser users has been challenging at times. The establishment of laser controlled areas and evaluating widely varied applications has also been challenging.

How has becoming certified benefited you in your career?

I have been associated with LIA and BLS for many years. The contacts made with these organizations have proven to be a great resource.

Being certified provides a level of credibility that users respect.

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.

For more information about IARPA, visit:


Terri Clarkson

Tell us about yourself

My name is Terri Clarkson. I am a Registered Nurse and the CMLSO at SpaMedica in Toronto, Canada under the direction of Dr. Stephen Mulholland.

When did you start working with lasers?

I have been working with cosmetic surgical/aesthetic lasers at SpaMedica for 20 years now. We have a broad spectrum of technology covering every wavelength available for cosmetic/aesthetic applications.

How did you become the LSO?

As we grew and expanded, I was asked to be the MLSO and oversee the programs.
I became certified in 2004.

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

What I enjoy most about being the CMLSO is the continuing education, teaching and sharing of knowledge with colleagues within the workplace.

For example, in 2010, I had the privilege of reviewing and critiquing a new training video called “Focal Points” for the Laser Institute of America.

Certification has validated my credibility and allowed me to work with different laser companies to assist in their training programs as well.

For more information about SpaMedica, visit: 

John Hoopman

Tell us about yourself

John E. Hoopman, CMLSO – I am currently the Laser Safety Officer at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center Dallas.  I received my Associate of Applied Science Degree in 1998 in Lasers and Geometrical Optics.  I have been at UT Southwestern since graduation. I participated as a contributor on the first medical laser safety officer certification exam and was one of the original eight individuals to become a CMLSO.

How did you become LSO?

I started working with lasers immediately after graduation and helped operate a five hospital and multifaceted research program that included 120+ lasers at the time. Within 2 years, I was asked to take over the lead role of MLSO and since then, we have grown the program to over 320 lasers.  Our program is responsible for over 30 peer-reviewed published papers on surgical and aesthetic laser procedures.

Do you like being the LSO?

The most joy of being the CMLSO at UT Southwestern comes from the working / collaborative relationship I have with our faculty and staff.

Has becoming certified helped you in your career?

Being certified has helped support my credentials. It lends credibility to our publications and presentations.

Jamie Gurney

Tell us about yourself

My name is Jamie Gurney and I live in Merritt Island, FL with my husband Jeff, where we have raised seven children together. I started my career in Health Physics at nuclear power plants as a Jr. Health Physics Technician.  From 1990 -1992, I worked at the University of Florida in the Environmental Health and Safety Department as a Radiation Control Technician. I returned to nuclear power plants for a few years before being hired at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in 1997.

I received an Associates of Science degree in Radiation Protection Technology at Central Florida Community College in Ocala, FL in 1988. I received my Bachelors of Arts in Business Administration with Specialization in Management in 2001. I took my NRRPT in 2003 and CLSO in 2004.

Where do you work?

I am the Health Physicist for Integrated Mission Support Services at KSC. I have worked for the Environmental Health and Safety department there for 20 years, first as a Health Physics Specialist, then as a Health Physics Contractor/Consultant, and now as their Health Physicist.

I started working with lasers in 1997 when I came to KSC to work as a Health Physics Specialist. I had no real experience with lasers before that time. After a few years of working and getting my feet wet in laser safety hazard analysis, my boss suggested I take the CLSO exam. It was the best thing I could have done at the time for my career and has definitely opened doors to more career opportunities.

Currently I am not the LSO, as NASA has only one LSO, and I work for him as a contractor health physicist, offering my technical expertise and services in laser hazard evaluations among other health physics programs.

Has becoming certified helped you in your career?        

Until I was introduced to lasers and laser safety at KSC, I had no idea of the diversity of laser applications. The most challenging ones are usually the lasers that are used in outdoor situations in a dynamic environment. I am very fortunate to have stumbled upon this aspect of health physics and have enjoyed working with people from all over the country and seeing the innovations in laser technology that have occurred over the last 20 years.


John Sakaris

John Sakaris is the featured CMLSO in our Volume 10, issue 3 of our quarterly newsletter. Read more about him in his own words below…

Tell us about yourself

 John C. Sakaris RN CNOR CMLSO – I am currently the Laser Coordinator for Perioperative Services at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas. I received my Associate of Applied Science Degree in 1967 and my Associate Degree in Nursing in 1976. I have been a CNOR for 25 plus years, and CMLSO since 2008.

 How did you become LSO?

I started working with lasers in the late 1970’s, specifically the CO2. At my previous position with the Memorial Hermann Hospital System, I was asked to be the MLSO. I agreed to take the position and was sent to a MLSO training course.

Do you like being the LSO?

I enjoy being the MLSO; I welcome any challenges and enjoy facing and resolving them.

Has becoming certified helped you in your career?

Being certified has given me a lot more credibility and the ability to network with other people in our field of Laser Safety.


*Meet John at ILSC, where he is scheduled to present “Something New Under the Sun for Holmium Laser Technology” during the Medical Practical Applications Seminar (MPAS).

Rod Nickell

Rod Nickell is the featured CLSO in our Volume 10, issue 3 of our quarterly newsletter. Read more about him in his own words below… 

My name is Rod Nickell; I live in Merritt Island, Florida with my beautiful wife Sherri and three sons Sam, Brett and Colby.

I graduated from Cumberland College in Kentucky and the University of Central Florida in Orlando with degrees in Biology and Radiologic Science, respectively.

I have over 30 years professional experience in the Health Physics profession. The majority of which were at the NASA Kennedy Space Center (KSC), where I managed the implementation of the Radiation Protection Programs (lasers, ionizing radiation and RF) as part of the Environmental and Medical support contract. Prior to working at KSC, I worked for private industry, the State of Florida, and the U.S. Air Force. My professional career encompasses both managerial experience over professional HP staff and technical experience in such areas as laser safety, nuclear medicine, radiation therapy, preparation and inspection of radioactive material licenses, evaluation of high-power lasers, radiofrequency radiation, and space power applications.

I am a Certified Laser Safety Officer and this year was appointed as a National Fellow in the Health Physics Society. I currently work under NASA’s Office of the Chief Health and Medical Officer as the Agency’s Health Physicist.  Being part of this great team with Great Southern Engineering is truly a capstone to my career.  As the CLSO, I serve on NASA’s Laser Safety Review Board (LSRB).  The LSRB collaborates with other NASA Centers CLSOs/LSOs on their laser research projects that involve outdoor laser operations. This board will help ensure laser safety remains an integral part of NASA’s laser research projects.

Being a CLSO was paramount in me being chosen for the Agency Health Physicist position.  BLS certification demonstrates to stakeholders that you have the specific knowledge, skills and commitment to the laser profession.

Due to health concerns, the spring CLSO/CMLSO exam is being cancelled and the 2020 DOE workshop has been postponed. The fall exam will be held be held prior to the 2020 DOE workshop on August 17th, 2020. Our office team is working remotely and ready to assist you during our regular business hours!