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Anjali Agarwal

CACI | Technology Innovation and Labs, USA
For significant contributions to optical and quantum communications and RF photonics
Anjali Agarwal

During her childhood, Anjali Agarwal often found herself gazing at the sky and wondering about the stars and the universe. Her father, Professor Girish Agarwal, played a significant role in nurturing her curiosity. During her college years, Anjali’s father, who was a physicist himself, brought her to an observatory he led. There, a researcher took the time to share their knowledge about telescopes and pointed out various constellations observable by the telescope. This was a memorable experience, and while it would take her many years, she now gets to work in space communications, bringing her childhood interest full circle. 

For her master’s and PhD studies, Anjali decided to pursue the field of optics. Her PhD advisor at Northwestern University, Prem Kumar, encouraged her interest in fiber-optics. After completing her degree, Anjali embarked on a career at Lucent Technologies, where she worked at the forefront of fiber-optic communications technology for terrestrial networks. After a couple of years, she joined Telcordia and continued her budding career. 

During her 15-year tenure at Telcordia (now Peraton Labs), Anjali contributed to numerous DARPA-funded projects, delving into a wide range of optical technologies. Her work included research in areas such as microwave photonics, optical signal processing, and quantum communications, to name just a few. Reflecting on her time at Telcordia, Anjali fondly recalls it as the best 15 years of her professional life, where she engaged in cutting-edge research and had the privilege of collaborating with colleagues who made Mondays something to look forward to.

More recently, Anjali embarked on a new chapter in her career by joining the photonics division at CACI, where she is working on various aspects of optical communications between satellites. Anjali finds her work to be highly dynamic, collaborating with optical, mechanical, software, electrical, and firmware engineers daily, sharing, “There is never a dull moment.” She admits that the multi-disciplinary nature of her role presents challenges, but the satisfaction of seeing the integrated system function the way it should and knowing what it took to get it to that level makes it all worthwhile and extremely rewarding.

Having worked in both terrestrial and space communications, Anjali finds the parallels between the two fields interesting. Over the past 15-20 years, data rates for terrestrial networks have increased dramatically. Anjali believes that the technologies that enabled this growth in terrestrial networks hold the potential for data rate expansion in space communications. While acknowledging the unique considerations of the space environment, she views this field in photonics as a huge opportunity for growth and investment moving forward.  

Looking back on her career, Anjali attributes her success to three groups of people. First, her parents, whom she calls her “guiding lights.” Her father’s expertise as a physicist and willingness to drop everything to discuss a difficult question has been invaluable, while her mother’s unwavering support was a constant source of strength. Additionally, her twin sister has been a pillar of support throughout her journey. Next, Anjali credits her teachers from elementary school to her PhD advisor for shaping her as an individual. She emphasizes that educators should never be forgotten for their contributions during students’ formative years. Finally, Anjali credits her colleagues throughout her 22-year career as being instrumental in her success. 

She also acknowledges the importance of her Optica membership, which provided a strong foundation and offers invaluable networking opportunities that have been imperative to her achievements. She continues to actively engage with Optica through avid participation on editorial boards of Optica journals and conferences and remains committed to attending conferences organized by Optica.

In summary, Anjali's journey from her early years to becoming an Optica Fellow exemplifies her dedication, passion, and collaborative spirit. As she continues to explore new frontiers, Anjali eagerly anticipates a future where groundbreaking optical technologies lead to extraordinary advancements for society.

Photo provided by: Anjali Agarwal

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