DSU’s optics program founder leaves university

From left, Delaware State University president Dr. Harry Williams, DEDO Secretary Bernice Whaley, DSU astrophysicist Dr. Matt Bobrowsky, Gov. Jack Markell and DSU professor of physics Dr. Noureddine Melikechi used a laser to cut the ceremonial ribbon during the dedication ceremony of the school’s new OSCAR Building in September 2015. (Delaware State News file photo)

From left, Delaware State University president Dr. Harry Williams, DEDO Secretary Bernice Whaley, DSU astrophysicist Dr. Matt Bobrowsky, Gov. Jack Markell and DSU professor of physics Dr. Noureddine Melikechi used a laser to cut the ceremonial ribbon during the dedication ceremony of the school’s new OSCAR Building in September 2015. (Delaware State News file photo)

DOVER — The founder of Delaware State University’s optics program and the dean of the College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology, has left the university.

Noureddine Melikechi will become the dean of the Kennedy College of Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.

“I’ve been here for a long time, and I think I just want a different experience. I just want to have something different,” he said.

Noureddine Melikechi started the optics program in 1995. (Delaware State News file photo)

Noureddine Melikechi started the optics program in 1995. (Delaware State News file photo)

With a strong foundation at Delaware State, Dr. Melikechi is confident the program will be in good hands.

A member of the DSU faculty for 21 years, he founded the optical science program in the late 1990s. It was one of five advanced technology centers created at the time through a state initiative.

“The use of lasers is growing rapidly in applications that range from nanotechnology and optical fiber telecommunications to novel detection of dangerous chemicals, rapid and accurate characterization of various complex media and imaging of ultrafast phenomena,” the university’s website says. “As a result, degree recipients with expertise in optical science are in demand in the workforce and as professors to educate future generations.”

The optics program helps set DSU apart from other schools, especially historically black colleges and universities. It is one of about a dozen institutions in the country that offers a doctorate in optics and was among the first universities nationwide to award undergraduate degrees in the field. The area of study has since become more popular.

“Things are growing in that area so it’s really a booming field and I think we have a slight edge at least in minority institutions,” Dr. Melikechi said.

Graduates generally have good job options, so much so that some participants in the master’s program opt not to finish their degree but to start working instead.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Dr. Melikechi said.

The program’s success led to the development of the Optical Science Center for Applied Research Building, a 28,000-square foot facility that has several labs for research involving lasers and nanoparticles.

OSCAR, built at a cost of $28.8 million with substantial funding from the state and federal governments, is the first of two planned research facilities. The second is waiting on state funding.

State Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, said he hopes funding can be made available for construction. But, it will depend in large part on revenue projections for the state over the ensuing months.

There’s no question OSCAR benefits the state, he said.

Dr. Melikechi has similar thoughts, saying the optics program can be a “jewel” — fitting for a state sometimes known as the Diamond State.

The program’s impact goes beyond the university.

“I think we have always tried to open the doors so that we have an impact on the community and the state,” he said.

He estimated at least $40 million in grant money has been received through optics research over the years.

Dr. Melikechi, who has served on several state boards, is part of a NASA team working to send a rover to Mars in 2020. His work in that area will continue at UMass Lowell.

Professor Mukti Rana will take over some of his work at DSU. A request from university officials on who will head the College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology was not answered.

Dr. Melikechi, a native of Algeria who obtained his doctorate in physics in England, has lived in the United States since 1990. While he is moving on from the First State, it will remain a special place to the Melikechi family.

“We are leaving Delaware but Delaware is not leaving our hearts,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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