ECE Welcomes William Putnam to Faculty

DAVIS, Calif.; Jan.11, 2019–The UC Davis Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering welcomes William Putnam upon his appointment as Assistant Professor.

Prior to joining UC Davis, William was a staff scientist at Northrop Grumman’s basic research laboratory, NG Next where he researched ultrafast, few-cycle laser technologies and extreme nonlinear optics. Prior to NG Next, William worked as a postdoctoral researcher jointly between MIT, the University of Hamburg, and the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY) in Germany. He received his Ph.D. and M.Eng from MIT in electrical engineering, and he earned undergraduate degrees in physics and electrical engineering, also from MIT.

William’s research centers around ultrafast laser science and technology. Ultrafast lasers are optical sources that can produce incredibly short bursts of light. Recent developments have enabled researches to push the duration of these ultra-short light bursts down to only a few femtoseconds. For reference, 1 femtosecond = 10-15 or 0.000000000000001 seconds. Putnam notes, “Ultrafast laser technology has come a tremendous way. It’s fairly easy to make 8 fs laser pulses these days, and to get a sense for how incredibly short these pulses are, consider that the ratio of 8 fs to 1 minute is about the same as the ratio of 1 minute to the age of the universe.”

Billy in lab

In William’s research group at UC Davis he intends to probe nonlinear and extreme light-matter interactions and their applications with ultrafast laser pulses. Ultra-short laser pulses enable researchers to access tremendously high peak optical powers and explore such extreme interactions. Putnam notes, “Imagine taking a small amount of energy, a couple micro-Joules, and compressing it into a ten femtosecond laser pulse. Such a pulse would have a peak power of about 200 MW. The average power consumption of all of Yolo County in 2017 was around 200 MW!”

William’s research group will leverage the unique optical properties of nanostructures to shape and control the interactions of such high peak power laser pulses. Controlling these interactions, William hopes to explore and understand the basic science underlying extreme light-matter interactions as well as to leverage them for technological applications ranging from lightwave microelectronics to light-driven, microscale particle accelerators.