You may or may not have any idea of who Drake Anthony is, so the simplest way introduce you to Drake (aka Styropyro) is he is a 25 year-old laser enthusiast from Goodfield, Illinois who creates homemade laser inventions and posts them on YouTube. But, the real story about Drake is that he has been working with lasers since the age of 12 and has built some of the most powerful laser inventions by any DIYer or hobbyist builder. His creations have ranged from a remote controlled death drone laser bot to a 200 watt laser bazooka to a 13 kilojoule ruby laser. To say Drake is a laser enthusiast is an understatement, he’s more like Doc Brown meets Marvin the Martian with a powered car battery by MacGyver and YouTube provides the lens for the world to see what he’s cooked up. Intrigued, oh it gets way better, lets get started and dig a little deeper with our first question.
Esco Optics: How did you get your start building your inventions?
Drake: I’ve always been interested in science and I’ve had lots of hobbies, instincts, weather/meteorology, astronomy, but around age 12 it was chemistry, pyrotechnics and lasers. I was actually introduced to lasers in my middle school classroom. It sounded so cool, so when I got home I dove in and I started reading more about them. Just after that I found out that green laser pointers existed. So, I saved up enough for my first green laser pointer and as soon as I got it, I immediately wanted it to be more powerful, so ripped it apart and tried to modify it and I broke that one. Then I saved up enough money and bought another one and was finally able to make it more powerful. From there I just wanted more and more power. It was bright but couldn’t burn anything, so I started tearing apart old DVD burners and pulling laser diodes out of those and reading on-line about projects and circuits. For me it was all hands on learning, more often than not I broke things. Right around that time I started to post videos about these projects and then they started to get some views, but it wasn’t until college that I fully started to understand there was real math behind it all and that was illuminating.
Esco Optics: Did your parents show any concern over your videos or did they just understand this is what you did and they trusted you?
Drake: Well, at a young age, my parents did show some concern when I started ordering glassware, chemicals and other explosive stuff. My mom was a substitute teacher and it wasn’t until she came home with a high school chemistry test that I found lying around that things changed. I was in 7th grade and made my way through the whole test and understood the concepts. Once that happened, my parents could see that I really had a grasp on the safety and that is was always on my mind. That was about the time that they recognized that I was really reading about experiments and I wasn’t just mixing a bunch of chemicals together. Of course, they’re always concerned when they hear a loud explosion or something. There was this time in high school where I shot a hole in the garage door with a carbon dioxide laser...so there was that, but overall they understand that I’m as safe as possible.
Esco Optics: What is your favorite build?
Drake: Hmm, good question. It’s actually an unpopular build on YouTube, but its up there. It was around 2013 when I made the first aqua colored laser pointer. At that time, aqua colored laser diodes were crazy expensive, like $10,000, but I was able to find a really good buy on eBay. The ones I got were likely engineering samples from some seller who must have got them when a laboratory went out of business. I jumped on them when I saw them on eBay and I bought 4 right away. I think I was one of the first people to make the first aqua laser pointer using direct diode technology. It was this beautiful sky blue color and they were really unique. I would use them in my presentations and a few times there were physicists in the audience and afterwards they were convinced that I was using DPSS laser, but I would convince them that it was in fact an aqua laser diode. Now, they have proliferated into the market place and they are affordable, but I was really proud of that particular project.
Esco Optics: You recently were at the University of Rochester for your PhD. in Optics and decided to take some time off from school. Any insight on why you put the PhD on pause? You may not have known, but Ron Schulmerich (Esco’s Business Development Manager based in Rochester) was ready to take you under his wing and invite you to Thanksgiving dinner and offer you home cooked meals while you were away from Illinois.
Drake: Well, I’m still in the system and I could go back, but at the time was doing so much at once. I have my undergrad degree in chemistry but I tacked on so many extra classes. It was a lot and I just took on too much and I wasn’t ready for the adjustment to academia. Rochester is an awesome place, the university is amazing and it’s a great school and I just dove in too quickly and I had some things of my own that I wanted to get to and take a break.
Esco Optics:Have you thought about what your goals are for the future?
Drake: Right now, I’m at a crossroads, I’m struggling with increasing frustrations with YouTube demonetizing and suspending some of my videos, so I’m not sure as a platform or a medium for me its going to continue. They really don’t like my chemistry videos. I’m going to keep posting videos, but also I have some new outlets that I’m cultivating from past inquires or I could get into the industry with a full time job or get back into academia. So, there are lots of options. I’m working through some decisions, but for now I’m just having fun and enjoying it all.
Esco Optics: Where do you see laser technology going?
Drake: Oh man, the thing with lasers and the technology today is that its growing exponentially and its really exciting. I think about how much I’ve witnessed advancements as a hobbyist just by seeing what has progressed since I was twelve. Lasers are going into everything now, its getting more and more advanced. In surgery and medicines, cancer treatments, dermatology and dentistry, plus, there’s integrated photonics and quantum computing and light circuits. There’s just so much more uses for lasers and that keeps growing and growing in some cases lasers are more efficient than LEDs for certain applications. I could rant all day about laser technology.
Esco Optics: Do you ever wonder if someone from DOE or DOD will snatch you up or why they haven’t already?
Drake: Well, I’m not sure how I should answer, but I have been contacted by some people in the defense arena, but there hasn’t been a position that really stood out that made me want to move out to a new place. Even though right now I’m not making a bunch of money, the freedom is nice. I couldn’t do as much as I am now in college, but right now I’m just getting a lot of projects and things I’ve wanted to do and make and that’s really great.
Esco Optics: I must say after talking with Drake for about 45 minutes I’m tremendously impressed and energized. Almost as if he wired some voltage through our cellphone connection (it's entirely possible too). I can tell you no matter what this young inventor is onto next, it’s going to be great. If YouTube can get their act together, I foresee many more subscribers and views for Styropyro’s channel and there's an audience that wants to see more from him. In conclusion, if you’ve made it this far there’s one more piece to mention. We have some collaborations planned with Drake, but we need you to tell us what you want to see from him next. That’s right, you the viewer get to pick his next over the top build. Head over to escoOptics.com/styropyro to vote for his next epic creation.
Lastly, if you are attending Photonics West in San Francisco come by our booth #4244, North Hall on Wednesday January 31st and meet Drake in person and draw a little voltage of your own from his exciting mind.