Growing up, Marvin Hutt was always interested in tinkering and making things. For a science project, he made something rather unusual and sophisticated for a high schooler; he built an electron microscope that uses beams of energized electrons to illuminate and capture images of objects, which are typically ultra small, from cells to molecules.
Hutt, who managed to make the microscope by picking up material and equipment from local sources, won second place in the international science fair and garnered several college scholarships. It was an auspicious beginning for Hutt, who has since then devoted his life to physics and engineering as an active industrial practitioner with 11 patents to his name and as an educator at the Stevens Institute of Technology, where he is an adjunct professor in the physics department.
“I enjoy seeing the students’ faces light up with understanding,” said Hutt, who has been teaching at Stevens since 1995.
At Stevens, Hutt teaches photonics, which is defined as the study, application and manipulation of light. Tangible manifestations of photonics are lasers, LED lights and fiber optics. There is so much on-going advancement in the photonics field that it’s hard to keep up, even for an expert like Hutt. So instead, Hutt approaches his teaching with the intent to impart the fundamentals.
“I can’t solve their problems but I can give them the tools to help them come up with future solutions,” said Hutt.
And this approach has worked pretty well, said Hutt, who has former students all over the world working at prestigious companies and institutions, such as the United States Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. and Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
“I’m very pleased when they call me back to say that they got the job because they mentioned that they had my course, they learned certain subjects in my course, and that I exposed them to the same software that professionals are using,” he said.
It’s been an interesting professional and academic journey for Hutt, who never intended to be a professor or an engineering physics practitioner. Engineering physics is exactly as it sounds: the application of physics towards engineering challenges. Photonics is a subset of this field. Back when he was a high school and college student in the 1960s, physics was seen as a purely theoretical field and that was where Hutt was headed as a scientist. But that was changing as people like Hutt were drawn to the practical applications of physics and inventing devices that would impact the world.
“I was never a physicist’s physicist. I was a physicist who had great hands,” he said.
Hutt always had a practical bent. He became drawn into science and physics when he would work for his father, an electrician. In high school, he also took shop and tool making classes. Hutt was only interested in math and science and would fail classes like French because of his single-minded approach. But his aptitude for technical subjects and that prize-winning electron microscope would help him get into college.
“I was a weird kid,” said a laughing Hutt.
Hutt earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from New York University and studied for his doctoral degree in physics at NYU as well. During his doctoral study, Hutt was training to be a pure physicist but he veered off that path when he entered the workforce.
He worked for Materials Research Corp. (MRC), a company that made materials and developed processes for the manufacturing of semiconductors.
He also had stints at various engineering companies that made specialized optical devices, lasers, projectors for art museums and memory storage systems for fiber optic technologies. Many of the devices and processes he developed can’t be disclosed because of confidentiality agreements with companies, Hutt said, but he can point to several accomplishments.
For many years, Hutt has designed eye loupes for surgeons. At MRC, he developed the first automated sputtering machines, equipment that deposits films of metal and other materials on a thin substrate like silicon. Sputtering machines are used throughout the manufacturing of semiconductors. Hutt also developed processes for plasma etching, another important technique for making semiconductors.
“My great satisfaction is when I design a product for a company and it goes up against the competition throughout the world,” said Hutt. “This product goes out and really gets accepted. And you go back to the company and I see one hundred people who are employed and building what I designed for them.”
It was because of this rich, practical experience that led Hutt to be tapped for a position at Stevens, which was keen to build up their expertise and education in engineering physics at the time.
With many years under his belt, Hutt has no plans on retiring, either as an engineering consultant, which keeps him busy, and especially as an educator.
“It’s not a classical road to becoming a professor, that’s for sure,” said Hutt. “But it gives me a great deal of pleasure to teach and see the look of understanding on my students’ faces when they learn and achieve something.”
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