Mildred S. Dresselhaus Lecture

Monday, November 15, 2021 at 3:00pm to 4:00pm

Jelena Vučković

Jensen Huang Professor in Global Leadership in the School of Engineering; Professor of Electrical Engineering, and by courtesy of Applied Physics,  Stanford University


Inverse designed photonics: Are computers better than humans in designing photonics?

Photonics—manipulation of the flow of light on a chip—has many exciting applications, including new computing and communication platforms that are faster, more compact and more energy efficient, and a variety of  sensors for medicine, autonomous vehicles, and environment. Despite great progress in photonics over the past few decades, we are nowhere near the level of integration and complexity in photonic systems that would be comparable to those of electronic circuits, which prevents use of photonics in many applications.

This lag in integration scale is in big part a result of how we traditionally design photonics: by combining building blocks from a limited library of known designs, and by manual tuning and tweaking of few parameters. Unfortunately, the resulting photonic circuits are very sensitive to errors in manufacturing and to environmental instabilities, bulky, and often inefficient.

A few micrometers long piece of fabricated silicon that acts as a compact stage of a particle accelerator and accelerates electrons by interacting them with coupled laser field. This structure can shrink linear accelerators from miles to an inch on a silicon chip.

In this lecture, Vučković will show how a departure from this old fashioned approach can lead to optimal photonic designs that are much better than state of the art on many metrics (smaller, more efficient, more robust). This departure is enabled by development of inverse design approach and computer software that designs photonic systems by searching through all possible combinations of realistic parameters and geometries.

One of the most surprising results is that optimal designs are often completely different from traditional ones, and non-intuitive to photonic designers. Vučković will show how this inverse design approach can enable new functionalities for photonics, including compact particle accelerators on chip that are 10,000 times smaller than traditional accelerators (going from miles to inch in size).


The Dresselhaus Lecture series is named in honor of Mildred "Millie" Dresselhaus, a beloved MIT professor whose research helped unlock the mysteries of carbon, the most fundamental of organic elements—earning her the nickname “queen of carbon science.” This annual event recognizes a significant figure in science and engineering from anywhere in the world whose leadership and impact echo Millie’s life, accomplishments, and values.

Read more details, including past lecturers and 2021 registration information, here:

Event Type


Events By Interest


Events By Audience

Public, MIT Community, Students, Alumni, Faculty, Staff

Events By School

School of Engineering (SoE), School of Science


research, engineering, lecture, physics, science, Seminar, nanotechnology, Nanoscience, nanoscale, Dresselhaus Lecture


Contact Email

Add to my calendar

Recent Activity

You're not going yet!

This event requires registration.