Meet the Scientist—Richard Ordonez
Before he even completed his Ph.D. and began work at SSC Pacific as a full-time scientist, Richard Ordonez had served as the co-principal investigator for four major research efforts at the Center, earned two patents with a third pending and three disclosures, earned a Federal Laboratory Consortium award for graphene research, been inducted as a distinguished member into the Hawaii chapter of the National Academy of Inventors, received an Achievement Reward for College Scientists Scholar Award, co-founded the Hawaii Nanoelectronics Device Lab at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and helped cement SSC Pacific as the premier Department of Defense research institution for two-dimensional electromagnetic sensors.
Imagine the impact he’ll make now that he’s a certified doctor of electrical engineering and a full-time SSC Pacific scientist at Code H in Hawaii.
Though he’s fully embraced the field now, engineering isn’t what Ordonez set out to do. In fact, the New York native who moved to Hawaii in middle school courtesy of his father in the Air Force, was in the process of earning a master’s in astronomy instrumentation as he worked on adaptive optics systems for Mauna Kea Observatories. That’s when his advisor gave him some sage advice.
“I was very interested in working for astronomical observatories, but then working with the astronomers, they said ‘Hey I think you’d be more useful to astronomy if you knew how to make telescopes, and electrical engineering would help with that,’” Ordonez said. “That’s why I pursued electrical engineering instead of astronomy.”
Ordonez developed this interest in astronomy during his time at Leeward Community College, helping the Astro 100 professor revitalize the damaged observatory on campus. From community college, Ordonez went on to the University of Hawaii (UH) at Manoa for his undergraduate degree and doctorate. After he transitioned into electrical engineering, SSC Pacific scientist Nick Kamin approached the school looking for a Ph.D. student to work as an intern at Code H, and a match made in space was born.
“One of the reasons why I wanted to work here is the space part of SPAWAR—I’m actually still hoping to pursue some space work, but the mission here is a little different from looking at astronomic objects and such,” Ordonez said. “I’d like to continue to work with, for example, the Air Force telescope and satellite communications-- technology in that arena.”
For now though, Ordonez is one atom deep in graphene research. He and fellow UH at Manoa grad and Code H scientist Cody Hayashi spearheaded an effort to electrically contact graphene with liquid metals rather than typical rigid electrodes, and demonstrated that the ultra-thin, ultra-strong material can be combined with integrated circuits to detect electro-magnetic signals. The project investigating liquid metals was a pivotal one for Ordonez.
“That was originally my idea, and that was the first time I realized as a grad student that some of the ideas I come up with, people are interested in. That was a big deal for me,” he said.
In addition to continuing his research into graphene’s radio frequency and infrared detection capabilities, Ordonez plans to submit proposals to develop a liquid metal deformable mirror to filter out turbulence in optical communications systems, and is researching quantum dots, which can make light emitting diodes brighter, with the potential to advance lasers and even allow for frequency hopping within a narrow color band.
While his research is important, interesting, and challenging, Ordonez said one of his favorite aspects of his role at SSC Pacific has been the bridge he’s helped build between UH at Manoa and the lab.
“UH benefited a lot from this collaboration,” he said. “They grew a research team, now called the Hawaii Nanoelectronics Device Lab. It started with Cody and me and expanded to 12 students this year.”
SSC Pacific benefits from the expertise of student interns like both Ordonez and Hayashi, and students have the chance to find jobs to put their engineering and scientific skills to use, which can be hard to come by in Hawaii. Win, win, win.
When he’s not busy earning a Ph.D. or developing new materials, you can find Ordonez in the water.
“I love to surf—it’s one of the reasons I stayed in Hawaii, because I like waves,” he said. “It’s one of the few places where you can have a stressful day, but when the day is done, it’s a vacation lifestyle everyday here.”
For more information on SSC Pacific projects in development, or to set up an interview with Dr. Ordonez, please contact Katherine Connor in the SSC Pacific Public Affairs Office at Katherine.Connor.firstname.lastname@example.org.