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Esco Optics is a leading manufacturer of custom and catalog optics, precision optical components, and ITAR optics in the United States.
To best introduce you to Connor Fagans, we begin at the 2018 SPIE Photonics West trade show in San Francisco. There, Esco hosted YouTuber Extraordinaire, Drake Anthony, also known as “Styropyro” at its trade show booth. Esco had just completed a project with Drake, providing optics for one of his most interesting creations, a 13-kilojoule ruby laser. Before the show, Drake had posted a video on EscoOptics.com asking his audience to vote on what should be his next big project. The winning selection would then be announced at Esco’s booth, where any of his supporters could come to meet him in person.
There was a steady stream of Styropyro fans that stopped by to chat with Drake, including a high school student by the name of Connor Fagans. He was a big admirer who also shared the same passion for physics, lasers, and their optical properties. Connor and Drake became fast friends over the next two hours as the rest of the Esco team looked on. Connor’s dad, Joshua, mentioned that Connor had never missed a day of school and was a bit unsettled about missing a day to attend the show, but in the end, Connor had little doubt it was worth it.
A year later in February of 2019, we met Connor again at Photonics West. Since their introduction the previous year, Connor had continued speaking with Drake and had learned more about lasers and optics. Though Esco did not have Drake out that year, Connor said he had just stopped by the booth to say hello to us and to see what new optics we were working on. He enjoyed seeing the 1300+ exhibitors the previous year and was excited to attend again.
Today, Connor is an 18-year-old high school senior at Design Tech High School (d.tech) in Redwood City, California, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. What makes Connor unique from other high schoolers? Well, there are many things, but most important to us is that he is a young man who is extremely passionate about lasers and optics. Connor can remember exactly when his fascination with lasers truly began. In the 7th grade, his school brought him out for a short camping trip in the Santa Cruz mountains. On the final evening, everyone had gathered in the camp amphitheatre to watch some student skits and spend time with each other. It also just so happened that one of the counselors had brought a small green laser pointer with them that night. As they shined the device amidst the trees above, the tiny glowing green beam fascinated Connor and he just had to know more about how it worked. So, from then on, he dove deeper into the world of lasers and optics. At first, it led him to research laser technology and build his own laser pointers. As time went on, his pursuit eventually led him to the world of laser light shows. It’s important to note that prior to lasers, Connor has had a number of interesting fixations including electronics, hydrology, and geothermal energy.
For the common person, simply sitting back to enjoy the wonders of a laser light show is enough. These shows combine laser and optical technologies to wow crowds at planetariums, science museums, and concerts by drawing glowing images with laser light. But behind this spectacle, it takes an incredible amount of detail and intricacy to produce a laser show. Shows are created using specialized software, and many effects need to be built using frame-by-frame time tracking. It can be extremely laborious to assemble a full light show, especially one utilizing complex animations. Production times can even reach into the hundreds of hours.
How does one learn this craft? Well, passion and persistence are key and in Connor’s case, he utilized both. He scoured the internet for sources to aid him and eventually found a key resource called Photonlexicon, an online forum for all things laser related. It’s through this forum that he began asking questions and meeting bright minds that could help him delve deeper into his passion. Its sprawling threads and discussions led him through a wonderful journey of discovery and camaraderie as he investigated the world of laser shows. His search eventually brought him to a company called Prismatic Magic. Prismatic is a pioneer in educational and entertaining school assemblies, utilizing laser light shows to inspire and motivate students nation-wide. When Connor sent an inquiry through the company's online contact page, its President, Dr. David Volpe contacted him directly. Their discussions rapidly evolved from casual email correspondence to intensive web chats. Dr. Volpe noted, “very quickly we went from introductory concepts to discussing mode-hopping lasers, and I could tell that Connor knew his stuff.” The core of Prismatic Magic’s platform is to provide educational outreach in the form of laser shows to get young adults excited about science and technology. In Connors case, his level of excitement stood out. Dr. Volpe added, “It’s not just that Connor is passionate about lasers, he’s disciplined enough to really follow through with executing on what he’s learning.” Dr. Volpe also guided Connor through his application for an FDA-variance to produce his own light shows. (Since lasers can be dangerous, the FDA is the responsible agency that safeguards against hazardous or errant laser light shows by the public). Connor’s first attempt to navigate the 32-page bureaucratic gauntlet of an FDA application was rejected. However, he didn’t relent, and with a touch more guidance, Connor’s application was approved. Now he has his official variance to perform his very own laser shows for the public.
One might think Connor is satisfied with his accomplishments, but he continues to strive. Connor recently reached out to Esco Optics to assist him with starting a laser club at his school. The club’s focus will be mostly centered around laser light show events, but the group will also support each member’s own interests. For example, one member is creating a laser harp, which can be played by interrupting one of the laser “strings,” triggering a sound. The club has already run a significant performance at a Halloween party for around 1000, trick or treaters. Esco helped out by providing several Neutral Density filters which the club will use to lower the power level of laser shows run at school, making them safer.
Here we have a laser enthusiast who, at 16, applied for an FDA variance to produce his own public light shows and has founded a high school laser club for young inventors. Not content to limit his contributions to his school, he is premiering a YouTube channel called Laser Pictures. It will be a portfolio page of his past laser shows, as well as behind the scenes work on what technology he uses to make light shows.
Not surprisingly, we’re tremendously excited about Connor’s passion for optics, and we'd like to ask a favor of you. We would like our audience to show him some support and subscribe to his YouTube channel. As a provider of standard and custom optical components, Esco is thrilled to help and encourage young people like Connor to join the photonics industry and to see the immense potential in a career in advancing light.In conclusion, you can bet we'll see Connor at Photonics West this year and if you're attending please join us at Hall F Booth 4257 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, February 4th, 2020.
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