The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Shade tree engineering

Engineering professor maintains career, family

An SMU electrical engineering professor is breaking the stereotype of auto repairmen as laborers.

Gary Evans comes from both a mechanical and academic background. He used his knowledge of academics to begin research projects with grant money, then found commercial applications for the new products created.

Chet Evans, the professor’s father, is more than 90 years old and worked as a “shade tree mechanic” his entire life.

The phrase came from a time when car repairs were more mechanical than electrical and when repair shops were few and far between. Mechanics worked on vehicles under the shade of an old tree instead of in the high-tech computerized garages of today.

Evans’ father passed his love for automobiles on to his son, who started working at his side at a young age. When he was about 11 years old, he decided that he liked putting things together but without all the grease and grime.

“When I was working on cars with my dad, I learned that you have to break things down to the smallest part to understand how something works,” Evans said. “When you tear something down and completely rebuild it, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Research is a lot like that.”

Evans discovered a fascination for science on a chilly October evening in 1957 when the world tuned in to the sounds the radio broadcasting Sputnik. He was captured by the impact that a scientific event could have on the lives of ordinary people.

“In a time of laser eye surgery, computers, satellites and cell phones, this event may not seem like much to the average person,” Evans said “But it was really something then. Remember that the first laser was not created until 1960. This was what I wanted to do.”

His father never completed high school and could not understand all of “this college stuff,” but Evans’ mother, Bessie, encouraged her son’s desire for a higher education.

She went to college after her children were grown and earned a bachelor’s degree, then taught for many years until cancer forced her to retire.

“My mom taught me persistence,” Evans said. “I think she would still be teaching today, if she could. She’s 81 years old and still active.”

Evans received his doctorate in electrical engineering and physics from California Institute of Technology. He later served as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Washington where he previously had received his bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering.

His professional background includes work with RCA Laboratories, Aerospace Corporation and Sandia Labs.

Today, Evans has 20 patents, eight patents pending and more than 200 publications on his research in laser technology and semiconductor devices. He originally began teaching at SMU in 1992 when his twin children were graduating from high school.

“I had been working in the industry but wanted to be able to spend more time with teaching and research,” Evans said. “I started sending ré#233;sumé#233;s to different universities when I was contacted by Jerome Butler (electrical engineering professor at SMU). We had been friends for many years. He said that if I was serious, I should apply here. It worked out.”

This year the electrical engineering department will see a number of changes due to Evans’ efforts and a number of generous donors.

Projects under way include work on high-powered semiconductor lasers, integrated devices, special laser filters, telecom lasers, lasers used for medicinal purposes and a new clean room. However, the main drive behind these efforts is Evans.

“Gary is a world-class researcher who is also able to teach the practical side of the industry,” Stephen Szygenda, dean of engineering, said. “They have the highest quality of research. It’s very exciting for us here at SMU.”

Since potential clients would rather deal with a company than a school, Evans founded Photodigm in mid-2000 to commercialize recent advances in optical grating technology and handle production.

SMU provides the prototype research facility, and Photodigm provides the marketable end product.

The partnership with the university is working well. The company was started with $2.5 million in seed funding through solicitations. They have since raised $4.8 million through their products. Contracts and grants for the department and Photodigm include the national Air Force, Texas Instruments and TriQuint.

Evans has a son who graduated from SMU with a degree in electrical engineering and a daughter who received a fine arts degree from SMU. He has a third child, a daughter, currently working on a fine arts degree at SMU.

“This has been a wonderful experience for me,” Evans said. “My dad used to take me to work with him when he worked on cars. Having my children here while I taught is the same kind of experience for me. It will be an exciting place to work when they have moved on in their lives.”, integrated devices, special laser filters, telecom lasers, lasers used for medicinal purposes and a new clean room. However, the main drive behind these efforts is Evans.

Gary is a world-class researcher who is also able to teach the practical side of the industry,” said Stephen Szygenda, dean of engineering. “They have the highest quality of research. It’s very exciting for us here at SMU.”

Since the military, government agencies and commercial enterprises like the ability to deal with a company, Evans founded Photodigm in mid 2000 to commercialize recent advances in optical grating technology and handle production.

SMU provides the prototype research facility, and Photodigm provides the marketable end product. The partnership with the university is working well. The company was started with $2.5 million in seed funding through solicitations. They have since raised $4.8 million through their products. Contracts and grants for the department and Photodigm include the Air Force, Texas Instruments and TriQuint.

Evans has a son who graduated from SMU with a degree in electrical engineering and a daughter who received a fine arts degree from SMU. These are his twins. He has a third child, a daughter, currently working on a fine arts degree at SMU.

“This has been a wonderful experience for me,” Evans said. “My dad used to take me to work with him when he worked on cars. Having my children here while I taught is the same kind of experience for me. It will be an exciting place to work when they have moved on in their lives.”

He has recently purchased a vintage automobile that he will be restoring to its former luster, an Alta two-seater. Evans received his doctorate in electrical engineering and physics from California Institute of Technology. He later served as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Washington where he received his bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering earlier. His professional background includes work with RCA Laboratories, Aerospace Corporation and Sandia Labs. He is past president of Princeton Lasers and Electro-Optics Society (LEOS) Section and is active in the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

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