SPIE and Vanderbilt University announce $1 million optical engineering faculty fellowship

The SPIE Faculty Fellowship in Optics and Photonics will support a faculty member at Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, and Vanderbilt University announced the establishment of the SPIE Faculty Fellowship in Optics and Photonics. The $500,000 gift from the SPIE Endowment Matching Program will be matched 100% by Vanderbilt.

This is the eighth major SPIE gift to universities and institutes as part of the Society’s ongoing program to support the expansion of optical engineering teaching and research.

The SPIE Faculty Fellowship will support a Vanderbilt University faculty member who is working in optics and photonics. Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering Yuankai “Kenny” Tao has been selected as the recipient of the first gift.

Tao received his bachelor’s degrees in electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering, as well as a master’s degree and a PhD in biomedical engineering, from Duke University. Prior to joining the faculty at Vanderbilt, Tao was an assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmic Research at Cleveland Clinic and director of the Diagnostic Imaging and Biophotonics Laboratory at Cole Eye Institute.

“I’m incredibly honored to receive this fellowship,” said Tao. “My graduate and postdoctoral training in optics were the most formative experiences of my life, and SPIE conferences and publications have always been, and continue to be, the way in which I interact with the broader optics and photonics community. I’m very lucky to have a tremendous amount of support and mentorship at Vanderbilt.

“We have one of the few biophotonics centers in the country, and a critical mass of faculty spanning imaging, sensing, laser-tissue interactions, materials, and nanophotonics. This fellowship will be a vital resource as we continue to recruit best and brightest trainees and researchers in optics and photonics to Vanderbilt,” Tao said.

“I am thrilled SPIE has chosen Vanderbilt Engineering as a recipient of an endowed faculty fellowship,” said Bruce and Bridgitt Evans Dean of Engineering Philippe Fauchet. “These investments provide critical support to our most promising young faculty to continue to develop their research programs and increase the school’s competitive advantage to recruit the best graduate students.”

“The SPIE Faculty Fellowship will be instrumental in expanding opportunities for Vanderbilt University faculty working in optics and photonics,” said SPIE President David Andrews. “Their faculty will benefit directly from the gift, and it will positively impact the learning experience of their students. This partnership between SPIE and Vanderbilt will have a long-standing effect on generations of optics teachers, researchers, and students to come.”

The SPIE Endowment Matching Program was established in 2019 to increase international capacity in the teaching and research of optics and photonics. With this latest endowment, the program crosses the $3-million threshold for funds provided. The SPIE Endowment Matching Program supports optics and photonics education and the future of the industry by contributing a match of up to $500,000 per award to college and university programs with optics and photonics degrees, or with other disciplines allied to the SPIE mission.

About SPIE

SPIE is the international society for optics and photonics, an educational not-for-profit organization founded in 1955 to advance light-based science, engineering, and technology. The Society serves more than 258,000 constituents from 184 countries, offering conferences and their published proceedings, continuing education, books, journals, and the SPIE Digital Library. In 2020, SPIE provided over $5 million in community support including scholarships and awards, outreach and advocacy programs, travel grants, public policy, and educational resources. www.spie.org.

Contact: Brenda Ellis, 615 343-6314