As a child growing up in New York City, Donald Umstadter saw one of the first lasers on display at an international fair. He was hooked. His interest in lasers led him to study physics, first at the University of California, Berkeley, and then at UCLA.
"I actually did my Ph.D. on accelerating particles with lasers, but they were not nearly as powerful as the lasers we have now," he said. "We were trying to accelerate particles with lasers to replace those huge accelerators."
After graduate school, Umstadter completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Bell Laboratories, where the laser had been invented. He helped to develop novel laser-generated x-ray sources, for use in manufacturing the next generation of computer chips.
In 1989, Umstadter joined the University of Michigan, where an effort was under way to develop higher power lasers. In Michigan, as one of the founders of the Center for Ultra-fast Optical Science, Umstadter worked with Gerard A. Mourou, inventor of the technique that enabled a new generation of compact lasers to produce very brief pulses of extremely intense light -- the forerunners of Diocles. Umstadter came to UNL in January 2005, attracted by the excellent Physics Department and the opportunity to build the Diocles laser.
Umstadter saw UNL as a chance to push his research to new limits. "When UNL recruited me, I saw it as an opportunity to take these lasers to the next level," he said. "I want to test theories that I had published years ago at Michigan, but which I didn't have enough laser power to test."