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Owen Thome, Jessica Peña ’19 and Nicholas Vail were awarded scholarships by the Directed Energy Professional Society.


The Directed Energy Professional Society (DEPS) recently awarded three UCF graduate students scholarships worth up to $10,000 to continue their work in the area of directed energy.

The students, Jessica Peña ’19, Owen Thome and Nicholas Vail are all part of the Laser Plasma Laboratory, which is part of UCF’s Center for Directed Energy. The students were among 20 national winners. DEPS provides the scholarship to students who are conducting promising research in directed energy technology, high-power laser development, high-power microwaves and ultrashort pulse lasers.

Peña was named the Dr. Samuel Blankenship Directed Energy Scholar Award Winner, created in 2018 to honor the  previous Executive Director and DEPS Fellow. Peña, of the College of Optics and Photonics, is a second time recipient. In 2020 she was awarded a scholarship for her work on laser light filament propagation at high altitude.

Vail, of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and Thome, of the College of Optics and Photonics, received awards for their work on kilowatt-class Mid-IR thulium fiber laser development and new ultrafast long-wavelength infrared (LWIR) laser development, respectively. Both these novel types of high-power laser systems will soon be tested for the first time anywhere at UCF’s Townes Institute Science & Technology Experimentation Facility on Merritt Island, Florida, says Photonics Professor Martin Richardson, who leads the Laser Plasma Lab and the Center for Directed Energy at UCF.

“DEPS recognizes our students’ caliber and ingenuity, which is why it has given so many UCF students scholarships over the past decade — more than any other university,” says Richardson, who was named a DEPS Fellow in 2021.

The Center for Directed Energy aims to better understand how directed energy works, to develop innovative solutions to challenges facing the nation today and in the future, and to train the workforce needed to manage and advance the field in the private and public sectors.