Globally recognized optical and infrared materials scientist Clara Rivero-Baleine, Ph.D., has dedicated her life to the field of optics. In celebration of her many contributions to the field, CREOL, the UCF College of Optics and Photonics, named Rivero-Baleine the recipient of 2019’s Distinguished Alumni Award.

“I am honored to be recognized by an institution that gave me so much as student,” said Rivero-Baleine.

It’s been a journey for the accomplished scientist, who sits on Lockheed Martin’s Applied Research Sensor System and Technology group and serves as a Materials Engineer Manager and member of the Group Technical Staff in the Missiles and Fire Control group.

A proud Cuban native, Rivero-Baliene immigrated to the U.S. at 16 after her grandfather actively fought against Fidel Castro’s oppressive regime. Her family settled in Orlando to seek political asylum, and she quickly assimilated to life in her new home. She graduated as valedictorian of her class.

“I’ve always had a strong passion for mathematics and science,” said Rivero-Baleine. “It is a universal language that I have always had the blessing of understanding.”

Rivero-Baleine entered UCF’s Department of Physics in 1999 as a young, Hispanic scientist ready to make history in her field. She got a head start as an undergraduate when the National Science Foundation accepted her as a part of their Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) program — something she points to as the conception of her career in optics.

“It wasn’t until I took my classes at UCF that I realized how much I liked optics,” said Rivero- Baleine. “Then I was accepted to the REU program at the Center for Education in Optics and Laser (CREOL), and that really exposed me to the field. I was fascinated and certain it was where I was meant to be.”

The experience inspired Rivero-Baleine to the point of pursuing a doctoral degree in Optics from CREOL in 2005. While pursuing her PhD at CREOL, she also had opportunity to pursue a co-tutelle (dual-PhD) diploma with the University of Bordeaux in France, from where she received a second doctorate degree in Materials Science.

“I can’t thank UCF enough,” said Rivero-Baleine. “The opportunities students are given ensure that if you put in the work, you can be successful. You won’t find more supportive faculty and staff anywhere else.”

Now a lead principal investigator at Lockheed Martin pioneering the relatively new field of metamaterials, Rivero-Baleine applies the love of physical science that began as a student to the enhancement and development of optical material systems.

“My job is very dynamic,” said Rivero-Baleine. “UCF gave me the opportunity to build the basis for the work that I do. With the well-roundedness of the education I was given, I was exposed to many different things. That exposure prepared me well for how dynamic this career can be.”