Outstanding Physics AlumKnight

2 Howard Bender

Physics professor Dr. Josh Colwell (left) gives Dr. Howard Bender (right) his Outstanding AlumKnight award.

UCF Physics alumnus Howard Bender, Ph.D., ’98, has stayed connected to his alma mater in more ways than one. Most recently he was recognized as a 2016 College of Sciences Outstanding AlumKnight as well as founded an endowed scholarship in the UCF College of Nursing.

Dr. Bender graduated from UCF in 1998 with a doctorate in physics. Prior to that, he obtained his  bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Arizona in 1989.

Currently Dr. Bender serves as the program manager for Site-Directed Research and Development (SDRD) for National Security Technologies, LLC (NSTec), which operates the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) for the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration.

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Dr. Howard Bender in the lab next to the spectrometer he built to conduct early soft x-ray plasma experiments.

In addition to this role, Dr. Bender holds the title of Distinguished Scientist at NSTec and supports broad-based scientific and technical integration and activities across multiple laboratories and mission elements within the NNSS.

Prior to joining the Nevada enterprise in 2002, Dr. Bender worked for Sandia National Laboratories, California as part of the extreme ultraviolet lithography program, which sought to develop advanced semiconductor manufacturing capabilities.

Dr. Bender has published articles in plasma physics, extreme ultraviolet and soft x-rays sources, x-ray diagnostics, electron beam physics and semiconductor processing. He has also been awarded multiple patents for technology related to these fields. In addition, he has received R&D 100 awards for high-speed imaging and optical velocimetry. He is also an active member of the American Physical Society.

“I was blessed to have a wonderful and enriching graduate education at CREOL and the UCF Physics Department,” said Dr. Bender. “I’m often amazed to this day at just how much I was exposed to during my time at UCF, in our technical work, lifelong friendships formed, and the interactions with so many gifted and talented people.”

Dr. Bender discussed his UCF experience, career and advice to students and alumni in his spotlight responses below.

Why did you choose to attend UCF?

I attended UCF based on a recommendation.  I was working for IBM in New York in the early 90s and knew I wanted to go back to graduate school and study lasers. I happened to visit the IBM Watson Research Center on business and asked a prominent scientist there which university is known for optics and lasers. He of course said there was U. of Arizona (which is where I got my B.S.) and Rochester. He also said there is new center called CREOL starting up at University of Central Florida. He said he knew Bill Silfvast just left Bell Labs to become a professor there and Bill was of course a laser pioneer. That pretty much sealed the deal for me.  It was UCF.

How has your UCF degree helped you in your career?

This would take a short novel to answer appropriately.  When I started working on my Ph.D.  I really had no idea how much that process prepares you to be a professional scientist and to contribute to society in such a special way.  UCF and CREOL was a great choice for me and perfect fit.  I would not be where I am today without UCF, CREOL and all the faculty, staff and students that I had the pleasure of working with during my time there as a graduate student.

Dr. Howard Bender with his UCF adviser Dr. W. T. Silfvast receiving a framed image for their experiment.

Were you involved in any extracurricular activities at UCF?

Some.  You don’t have a lot of time when you’re working on a Ph.D.  You’re either studying for your qualifying exam and/or spending many hours in the lab doing research.  I enjoyed playing softball with fellow students, going on occasional outings, canoeing on the lovely Florida rivers and just hanging out with friends and family (including the CREOL family, like at MJ Soileau’s swamp parties!)

Have you stayed involved with UCF since graduation? If so, how?

Well in a small, but I think effective way, and at same time give back to UCF.  I started a scholarship at the UCF College of Nursing to help students pursue their degrees. I had a lot of nurses and healthcare workers in my extended family and just feel they do such a tremendous job and service it was a way to honor that profession.

What is your favorite thing about your job?

Since I manage our company’s R&D it’s really exciting to enable discovery and see our ideas come to fruition.  The new technologies that make a difference for our national security mission are really where I derive a lot of satisfaction.

What is your most memorable experience on the job?

I really have fun most every day and am always learning something new.  If I had to pick one it would be when we won an R&D100 award for one of the technologies we developed. It was exciting to get that news and be recognized for that contribution.

What piece of advice would you give to current students as well as UCF alumni?

I believe in perseverance.  Getting through college and (life for that matter) can be tough at times.  But that’s when and where it counts.  Go for your passion, stick to it, and don’t give up. 

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