Aaron Danner

Aaron Danner

  • PhD thesis title: Vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers operating in photonic crystal waveguide defect modes
  • Advisor: ECE Professor Kent Choquette


When Aaron Danner was a graduate student at MNTL, he never imagined that he’d be working abroad. A decade after graduating from Illinois, though, Danner is an associate professor at the National University of Singapore exploring the on-chip integration of nonlinear optical devices—a challenging problem because the materials are difficult to process. “There are so many interesting applications that it’s worthwhile to try to overcome these challenges,” Danner noted.

A major aspect of his research involves materials and structures that can enhance the light-matter interaction. He and his students are interested in controlling light on the nanometer scale, which could have an impact on holography, arbitrary optical wavefront generation and detection, and optical communications.

He also teaches a class in nonlinear optics and supervises undergraduates’ senior projects. “I have a team [now] making solar-powered planes and helicopters,” said Danner, noting how the project is fun but challenging because of the power constraints.

Danner started his career at Agilent (now known as Avago Technologies), where he worked on 4G vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs). He often traveled to Agilent’s semiconductor manufacturing plant in Singapore as part of his job. He left the company in late 2006, to join the NUS faculty.

“Although I really liked working at Agilent, I like the freedom of research direction as a professor,” Danner said. “I like the freedom of being able to set my own research goals, and I like being able to control exactly which research topics to pursue.”

When he came to Illinois for graduate school, Danner became the first doctoral student of ECE Professor Kent Choquette, who had joined the Illinois faculty after working at Sandia National Labs for seven years. “I learned something about starting a research group,” said Danner. “This was really valuable experience later when I had to do the same thing.”

What else does Danner remember about his time at Illinois? Having delicious Greek salads for lunch with his fellow graduate students at the Beckman Café and getting lots of parking tickets. “It was impossible to park my 1986 Pontiac Parisienne discreetly,” he joked, referring to the large square-bodied sedan.

Having benefitted from his time at Illinois, Danner encourages current MNTL students to hone their presentation and writing skills regardless if they want to work in industry or academia. “It’s much easier to convince people of the importance of your research if you can present it well,” Danner said.