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Faculty Spotlight with Dr. Daniel Smalley

Each week, we will be getting to know our faculty members a little bit better. This week, we will be getting to know Dr. Daniel Smalley.

Daniel Smalley

Dr. Daniel Smalley teaches Circuits, EM Radiation & Propagation, and Intro to Optical Engineering. His research, however, goes far beyond what these classes could cover: “to give mankind godlike creative power—to literally make things from the dust.” This unlikely focus has an unlikely origin; when he was younger, Dr. Smalley had a dread of a dystopian VR future, such as the future seen in Ready Player One and pulp of that ilk. His research, which focuses on optical trap displays, has the potential to bring us away from that virtual reality future—a path made more real by technologies such as those of the Metaverse—by reversing the way we interact with the digital world. Instead of making us continually emerge ourselves deeper into the digital world while abstracting ourselves from reality, optical trap displays would bring the digital world into our physical reality without abstraction.

His most fun project, however, operated on a much smaller scale—miniature, in fact. Dr. Smalley worked with a research team to create a fleet of toy spaceships that were able to shoot at each other like a laser-powered Starfleet flea-circus. During this project, Dr. Smalley had the thrilling realization that it was possible to reproduce most any scene from science fiction in miniature.

When he isn’t busy making science fiction from Star Trek and Star Wars a reality (and stopping the fiction of Ready Player One from doing the same), Dr. Smalley likes to just dance—more specifically, to play Just Dance 2020. He’s “superstar” level on Cheap Thrills, so be wary of challenging him on that particular song.

When asked what he would create if he could create one thing in his lifetime, Dr. Smalley revealed that his personal goals are as ambitious as his research goals—he would like to set up a 3D image of himself that will appear to his posterity intermittently throughout history, just like Hari Seldon from Isaac Asimov's Foundation books.