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Evans Pushes Limits Of Laser Technology

October 1, 2010

By Becky Polaski
Staff Writer

The knowledge that he may be the first to do something, no matter how small, is one of the best aspects of Jonathan Evans’ job at the Electro-Optical Countermeasures Technology Branch of the Air Force Research Laboratory.

Evans, a native of St. Marys, completed his Master of Science degree in Electro-Optics (M.S.E.O.) from the University of Dayton earlier this summer and plans to begin working toward a Ph.D. in applied physics at the Air Force Institute of Technology in October.

“Ongoing research at the lab at which I work seeks to develop new solid-state infrared lasers. We push the limits of laser technology. Together, we push our current lasers to higher powers, and develop new sources of coherent radiation that emit light at wavelengths (colors) that are difficult to reach with traditional laser techniques,” Evans said.

He explained that his thesis research assignment was to develop a solid-state infrared laser source that can rapidly switch its output between multiple wavelengths (colors).

“My work explores a new non-mechanical beam steering technique that will enable this kind of rapidly configurable laser. This addresses Air Force needs for more wavelength-versatile infrared lasers,” Evans said.

He will be presenting a paper summarizing his thesis work at the 2010 Frontiers in Optics/Laser Science XXVI Conference this fall.

“In many ways, a career in electrical engineering /electro-optics grew directly out of my interests and hobbies. When I was in high school, I loved to work with sound equipment. There was a time in high school when I spent every spare minute looking through a guitar or stereo magazine. I was fascinated by microphones and cameras, things which converted something physical into a signal – into data,” Evans said.

Evans remarked that there is something to be said for the thrill of taking an idea through its infancy and into development, and he enjoys taking an abstract idea and trying to either make it a reality or prove that it is an impossibility.

Additionally, he noted that the best thing about being in a laboratory, especially a small one, is the potential for tinkering.

“Some aspects of my job are highly technical, but a significant portion of it is oddly familiar, like Legos, Lincoln Logs or an erector set,” Evans said.

For Evans, the toughest part of the job is facing the unexpected.

"The hardest hurdles to overcome are the ones you never saw coming. You might suddenly find out that you can’t make any more progress until you resolve some fundamental issue or acquire a new piece of (expensive) equipment. These delays are inevitable, but they can also be really frustrating when you are not sure they will be worth it,” Evans said.

Jonathan is the son of Denny and Nancy Evans of St. Marys, and the grandson of Grace and the late Fred King and the late Bill and Shirley Evans.

Evans noted that his parents have always been extremely supportive of his decisions and have been extremely influential in his life.

“Without the support of my parents, in every category of life without exception, I am certain I would not have succeeded in anything,” Evans said

Growing up in St. Marys, Evans attended South St. Marys Street Elementary School, St. Marys Parochial School and Elk County Catholic High School.

He noted that there were a number of area teachers who had a big impact on his life.

“I’m not sure I knew how to really think before Mr. Greg Snelick stretched my mind, not only to grasp, but to master the material he taught. Without a doubt, his calculus class laid the mathematical foundation for nearly everything which would follow. If I had not learned that material, I could scarcely have learned anything else,” Evans said.

Mrs. Laura Anderson and Mrs. Karen Wendel also made indelible impressions on Evans.

“These two teachers supported me in the Pa. Junior Academy of Science, an activity to which my job bears uncanny similarity,” Evans said.

He also praised teachers Mr. Jim Lallman, Mrs. Eleanor Herbstritt, Mr. Gib Higgins, Mr. John Kowach, and Mr. Joe Sensor for helping him gain insight into science, nature and music.

His religious faith has also always been an important part of Evans’ life and he added that he owes a lot of credit to the people of Faith Baptist Church, particularly Josh Barnhart and Kim Gee, who gave him a moral compass.

“I also want to express my appreciation to Jim Oetken, who helped me find a professional direction. I am sure that he more than anyone else is responsible for my decision to pursue engineering,” Evans said.

One of Evans' first jobs was working for the Industrial Steel and Pipe Supply Company each year, where he performed inventory each year. He also worked for Triangle Suspension Systems of DuBois when he was in college.

After graduating from Elk County Catholic High School in 2003, he went on to attend Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, where he graduated with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering in 2008.

He was also a student member of SPIE, formerly The International Society for Optical Engineering, and IEEE, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Evans and his wife, Pamela, currently reside outside of Dayton, OH, in the city of Xenia.

“In many ways the area is unlike Elk County. There are more businesses and schools. There is more music and arts awareness. There is more crime and unrest. There are more people, and there is less privacy. It is certainly not what I am used to. I frequently find myself asking if the opportunities I have gained are worth the simplicity I have left behind. Without a doubt, the thing I miss the most about Elk County is the wildness of it. My dad and I loved to canoe, camp, hike, and hunt near the Allegheny National Forest. Now, I have to travel nearly three hours to really hunt. Career opportunity aside, I do miss home,” Evans said.

He added that he tries to make it back to the area three or four times per year.

“Most of my relatives live in the St. Marys Area, so I try my best to make it home for major holidays and for Mother’s Day,” Evans said.

As he continues working toward his Ph.D. and begins his professional career, Evans explained that he continues to be guided by his religious faith. He and his wife are both active members of Kemp Road Baptist Church.

“I often take time to reflect on what I want to accomplish in life. Somehow, whenever I start to contemplate the possibilities, it always depresses me, no matter how grand the dream may be. No professional accomplishment, no dream actualized, no position attained in this short life, can ever bring real meaning to a person’s life. True meaning can only be found in Jesus Christ. Only in Him can you accomplish anything of meaning. His purposes for your life are the only thing that can bring any lasting sense of fulfillment,” Evans said.

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