Local optics & imaging veteran takes charge at RIT’s Carlson Center for Imaging Science

Local optics & imaging veteran takes charge at RIT’s Carlson Center for Imaging Science

A local optics and imaging veteran — who also has a background in education — has taken the helm at Rochester Institute of Technology’s Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science.


Susan Houde-Walter became director of the center in September.

She is well known in the region — and throughout the field — for her accomplishments and plans to use her expertise to advance the center.

Houde-Walter co-founded LaserMax Inc. (now LMD Power of Light Corp.), which manufactures laser and related equipment for the military and other government customers, including law enforcement.

Additionally, Houde-Walter was on the faculty at the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics and was a former president of the Optical Society of America.

She has a long record of service on several science boards for the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Department of Defense and has won numerous awards from the U.S. Army, U.S. Air Force, National Women’s Hall of Fame, Rochester Engineering Society and Optica.

Houde-Walter’s professional experience, including in the field of national security, coupled with her teaching background and the desire to educate the younger generation on the rapidly evolving field, factored into her decision to take the position at RIT.

As did her love of science.

“I realized I had a role to play,” she said.

Through education leading to bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in imaging science, the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science trains the next generation of educators and researchers who develop and deploy imaging systems that answer fundamental scientific questions, monitor and protect the environment, help keep the nation secure and aid medical researchers in their quest to conquer disease.

The field of imaging science addresses questions about every aspect of systems that are used to create, perceive, analyze and optimize images, Houde-Walter said.

The program incorporates optics, image processing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, vision research and sense-making.

The all-inclusive approach makes the graduates in-demand when they enter the workforce, she said, noting that most have secured jobs before they graduate.

Two examples of work conducted by students at the center are:

  • Scientists from the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science partnered with students in the museum studies degree program to create, test and iterate a low-cost spectral imaging system and software to recover obscured and illegible text on historical documents, and
  • An imaging science Ph.D. student from India helped create algorithms to identify upcoming landslides.

Since starting the job, Houde-Walter has been on a listening tour, speaking with faculty and students, learning their thoughts on the center and what changes they envision that will strengthen the program there.

Her initial plans include hiring faculty and expanding the school’s undergraduate degree programs.

Students at the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science learn aspects of systems that are used to create, perceive, analyze and optimize images. Photo by Gabrielle Plucknette-DeVito/RIT

She also envisions a program where students can interact directly with those in the field — including those who work at imaging-focused businesses and national labs, for example — as well as having an active industrial advisory board at the school.

Imaging science is used in several disciplines, Houde-Walter noted, and it continues to evolve.

The field used to focus heavily on lenses and detectors, but now much of the research has shifted toward image and information processing, she explained, noting that artificial intelligence and machine learning are playing an increasing role.

The Rochester region has many advantages when it comes to imaging science, from the local firms working in the field to the programs offered at the educational institutions here, as well as a spirit of collaboration.

Houde-Walter believes Rochester will continue to play a leading role in imaging science moving forward.

“Rochester has staying power,” she said. “The technical DNA is built into us.”

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