The Michigan Engineer News Center

Elizabeth Dreyer: Solving the world’s puzzles

Doctoral candidate Elizabeth Dreyer seamlessly balances her optics research with leading student organizations on campus.| Medium Read
IMAGE:  Portrait of Elizabeth Dreyer. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing

Status: Doctoral student

Hometown: Rochester, MI

Department: Electrical Engineering

Doctoral student Elizabeth Dreyer set out to rethink the assumption that light’s magnetic field component has negligible effects on materials. So far, her research has found substantial phenomena.

“We’ve discovered that if you include light’s magnetic component, this whole new class of optical phenomena fall out of the same classical equations people have been using for the last 60 years,” she says.

She is now looking to answer why certain materials, at certain intensities, produce stronger effects than others. She uses a high-powered laser to run a large scattering experiment, where she collects scattered light to learn about interactions happening inside materials. Her research may introduce more common materials to conventional photovoltaics, which currently relies on rare earth materials.

Growing up, Elizabeth was known as the student who loved every class. She changed her career aspirations almost every week in high school, and ultimately decided to pursue electrical engineering after enrolling in a pre-college program for women in engineering. She graduated from Michigan Technological University with a degree in electrical engineering, and specifically delved into nonlinear optics at the University of Michigan after enjoying optics classes in undergraduate school.

A self-proclaimed organization junkie, Elizabeth told herself she could pick two organizations at U-M to stay involved in while pursuing her PhD. She chose to take on a leadership role in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), which she believes provides the best support for female engineers at every stage of their career. She served as SWE’s graduate committee activities co-chair during her second year of graduate school, co-director during her following two years, and graduate member coordinator at the society level beginning her fourth year.

She also founded the Optics Society at the University of Michigan, a joint student chapter of the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) and the Optical Society of America, in 2012. She served as the chapter’s president her first two years and secretary her third and fourth year. She currently serves on SPIE’s education committee and regularly leads outreach efforts.

Elizabeth believes in the power of engineering as a way to solve the world’s puzzles. When she works on teams, especially with other female engineers, she notices that problems as well as solutions are constantly evolving and maturing. She believes engineers can always do better, and technology has had a net positive and powerful impact on the world.

She says in engineering, “There’s always a new problem to solve, and slowly but surely, we’re making the world a better place.”

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Catharine June
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Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

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