The Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering is one of the largest ECE departments in the country and has faculty from a wide variety of backgrounds with expertise in many different research areas. One of our newest assistant professors is no exception.

Dr. Zin Lin is an applied physicist, who earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University and has expertise in nanophotonics, quantum optics and photonics, quantum sensing and more.

Get to know more about Lin with our top 5 getting to know you Qs:

Why Virginia Tech? What do you love about VT?

So far, the best thing about Virginia Tech is that I get to work with great colleagues who are very supportive, which makes it enjoyable for every activity - from exchanging research ideas to writing proposals.

At the institutional level, I am quite motivated by the fact that VT is expanding in the National Capital Region and positioning itself to be a major player in key areas like quantum, AI and next-generation technologies. I think this brings forth a lot of opportunities for faculty and students.

What’s your favorite thing about being a professor/faculty member?

To me, the best thing about being a professor is being able to pursue my research interests and interact with like-minded scholars who appreciate my work and interests — particularly in the quantum field.

Besides that, I love teaching. I take great pleasure in helping my students get to those "light bulb" or "eureka" moments — you know, those moments they cut through the fog and attain intellectual clarity over particularly difficult concepts. 

What does your research entail? What do you hope will come of it?

To put it a bit informally, my research is about using physics to the hilt by "big" optimization. You hear a lot about big data and machine learning. A lot of it is optimization which is actually more general. Here we do optimization in a "big way" so that you bring in a lot of physics and you play with millions (to even billions) of parameters.

For example, one major thread of my research is designing nanostructured devices. We parameterize and optimize these nanostructures with an enormous amount of geometrical freedom so that they can make the most out of fundamental physics like Maxwell's equations and quantum mechanics. Using this "big optimization" approach, our goal is to make extremely compact devices like sensors and computers that can perform as well or even better than the existing solutions that have larger footprints. 

A bit more broadly speaking, we are hoping that what we are doing could foster a paradigm shift in engineering design itself: rather than relying on human intuition and often "partial" analysis of the physics to come up with device designs, people become more accustomed to doing "big" optimization with "entire" physics (in the sense of entire governing equations of motion) to obtain rather non-intuitive solutions and greater performance---quite similar to the way people have now realized the advantage of using big data and AI to solve many complex problems.

What originally got you interested in your work and/or research?

I have always gravitated towards physics and math since high school. I was quite lucky in that I got to work closely with a great professor in my undergrad, who really broadened all my horizons and firmly put me on a researcher's path. Then I got to work with fantastic advisors in my PhD and Postdoc who further amplified and strengthened my passion for the field. 

What advice do you have for students looking to join the electrical and computer engineering field?

Try to develop a passion for it; if you have the passion, then everything you do becomes quite enjoyable. And if you think you might like research, start early. Approach professors boldly — most of us are always hungry for great students.