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#FacesofPhotonics: Virtual Reality Game Programmer, Nathan Rasmussen

Nathan Rasmussen
SPIE’s #FacesofPhotonics social media campaign connects SPIE members in the global optics, photonics, and STEM communities. It serves to highlight similarities, celebrate differences, and foster a space where conversation and community can thrive.

This week on #FacesofPhotonics we are sharing the story of Nathan Rasmussen from Arcata, California. Nathan was part of the SPIE Student Chapter at Washington State University (WSU) and is now a physics and 3D math consultant, programmer, and game designer for Martian Games, a small company that focuses on multiplayer games and virtual reality (VR).

He is also working on interactions and optimization for VR. Looking forward, he says, one day he hopes “to develop games and experiences for STEM classes in order to teach abstract concepts.”

We hope you enjoy his interview.

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics.

Nathan at the Seattle Indies Expo, demoing an Android game
As a child, I was always fascinated with light. I had a magnifying glass with which I used to burn leaves outside, but, once indoors, I realized that the magnifying glass didn't just concentrate light into a spot, it made an image of the source. When I saw an image of the living room lamp on the table, it was really exciting. I also watched the movie Real Geniuses when I was around seven, and I wanted to work with lasers from that day on.

2. Describe a memorable experience from an SPIE event.

In grad school, the SPIE Student Chapter had a lot of really cool events. The laser maze might be the coolest one I've seen. It was very popular and it got a lot of attention, which is great because it helped our International Year of Light outreach efforts as well as drawing a lot of local kids to WSU events. The kids loved it!

At the IYL 2016 Laser Maze
Photo credit: Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services

3. Share your favorite outreach or volunteer story. 

We set up a bunch of experiments with bubbles for a group of eight and ten year olds: they were trying to make a bubble solution that created the best bubbles. They experimented with which ingredients impacted the bubbles, and also considered what a good bubble means. Is it the strongest? The biggest? The one that lasts the longest? They got to explore those concepts together.

Nathan in front of a VR headset display
at the Seattle Indies Expo

4. Explain your current research, and how it can impact society.

Right now I am focused on game development for virtual reality. My longer-term goal is to develop games and experiences for STEM classes so that teachers can teach abstract concepts.

5. What is your advice for others in the STEM community?

If you love science, keep working hard at it. A lot of people don't think they can do science or think it's too hard. If you work hard, you can do it! 

6. What are you most excited to see in the future development of photonics?

I am looking forward to light field displays for VR which will give us much more immersive VR systems. It will take some really talented and hard-working physicists and engineers to make this a reality, but they are working on it.

If you’re interested in learning more about the world of VR, AR, and MR, check out the free conference at Photonics West 2019.

And, you can follow along with past and upcoming stories on SPIE social media channels:

Or search #FacesofPhotonics on your favorite social network!


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