Shining a Light on Success: An Interview with Student Optical Design Competition Winner, Mohammad Asif Zaman

Optical Solutions Editorial Team

May 29, 2024 / 2 min read

Introducing Mohammad Asif Zaman, one of the winners of our 2018 student optical design competition. He and his colleague, Yasin Buyukalp, worked on the project titled, 'High-NA Achromatic Objective Lens for Endomicroscopy' during their Ph.D. research at Stanford University. Utilizing the power of CODE V, they submitted a project that stood out amongst the competition. In this feature, Zaman generously shares insights from his competition journey and offers valuable advice for aspiring entrants.

Student Optical Design Competition Winner, Mohammad Asif Zaman | Synopsys

Q: What made you decide to enter the Synopsys student optical design competition, and what did you (and Yasin) have to do?

I was taking the course EE 347: Optical Methods in Engineering Science taught by Prof. Lambertus Hesselink, who also happened to be my Ph.D. supervisor. During the lectures, he mentioned the CODE V optical design competition and that the past winners included students from the same class he taught in previous years. That set the standard and gave us a challenge. I immediately wanted to enter the competition and try my best to win it. 

There was a final optical design project that we had to do (in groups of two) and the idea was to submit that design for the competition. We had the freedom to select any imaging system. Yasin and I selected an endomicroscope. Basically, it is a tiny imaging system that can fit inside a biopsy needle with target application being breast cancer detection. The system requirement included high numerical aperture and image with low aberrations. We also wanted it to be achromatic so that it can image multiple wavelengths of light (corresponding to different colored fluorescence dyes commonly used in breast-cancer biopsies). Yasin and I worked on a rough design on paper and then analyzed it in CODE V. After multiple rounds of design modifications and optimization, we came up with the design we submitted for the competition. Prof. Hesselink and Dr. Jeff Wilde (who gave a number of lectures in the course) helped us to solve some of the issues we came across.

Design of a High-NA Achromatic Objective Lens for Endomicroscopy | Synopsys

Q: How did it feel to be one of our winners?

It felt great! We knew that a lot of amazing designs get submitted for this competition from all over North America. It was a great honor to be selected as one of the winners.

Q: What is your advice to students who would like to enter the competition?

I would recommend starting the work early (~ 3-4 months before the submission deadline). Optical designs with even a moderate number of lenses have a very large number of parameters that need to be optimized. Due to the highly coupled nature of the system we worked on, the relationship between these parameters and the output goals was hard to figure out. Sweeping certain parameters and using the optimization tool in CODE V certainly helped. Spending time on these final tweaks can transform an OK design to a very good design. So, it's great to start early and have enough time to improve the design.

Another recommendation would be to take the practicality of the design into account. For us, it was making sure that the miniature lenses that made up our endomicroscope could actually be manufactured. We tried selecting materials like PMMA for the lenses that can be injection molded at the scales we were proposing.  

Q: What are you pursuing now, career-wise?

I am currently a post-doc at Stanford University. My current research is using optics to trap and manipulate micron-sized objects for bio-chemistry applications. 

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