Associate Optical Engineer

About HHMI:

Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is a science philanthropy whose mission is to advance biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. We empower exceptional scientists and students to pursue fundamental questions about living systems, and work to share scientific discoveries with researchers, students, and science-curious individuals around the world.

Founded in 1953 by aviator and industrialist Howard R. Hughes, HHMI is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and employs more than 2,500 people across the U.S. Visit to learn more about working at HHMI.

About Janelia Research Campus:

Janelia Research Campus (Janelia) is a pioneering research center in Ashburn, Virginia, where scientists pursue fundamental questions in neuroscience and imaging. The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) launched Janelia in 2006, establishing an intellectually distinctive environment for scientists to do creative, collaborative, hands-on work. To learn more about working at Janelia, visit

About jET:

The Janelia Experimental Technology (jET) group is a team of engineers, machinists, and technicians that creates novel instruments to facilitate the cutting-edge research of Janelia. The jET department enables scientific research at Janelia by providing solutions to technical challenges that span a broad range of engineering and fabrication design spaces. Typical instruments are comprised of a wide range of custom designed optical, electro-mechanical, motion, machine vision, embedded software and electronic components.

About the Position:

jET is seeking highly talented and ambitious college grads to join our team and to be a part of the unique Janelia experience. We have recently established the jET training program (Associates) with a current focus on recruiting recent Bachelors in Optical and Mechanical Engineering as well as college graduates with an advanced degree in Optics or AMO physics for an intensive 1-year term during which you will get hands-on experience working on jET projects at the interface of engineering, neuroscience and optical imaging research.

Initially, jET Associates will rotate through a series of apprenticeships within jET and their time will be dedicated to learning engineering tools and best practices by assisting staff engineers and scientists in ongoing work. Later on, jET Associates will be expected to work independently on projects appropriate for a junior member of the jET team. At the end of the term, successful jET Associates will be given an opportunity to renew their term for an additional year with the limit of up to 2 renewals (3 years maximum tenure). If conditions in future allow for hiring additional jET full-time staff, proven-qualified jET Associates would be excellent candidates for such positions.

We seek people who are passionate about contributing to scientific discovery, can generate great ideas and deliver solutions based on them, and who are excited to work in Janelia's highly collaborative and unique environment.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities:

  • Design, develop, assemble, integrate, test, debug, modify, and optimize simple to complex systems, instruments, and one-of-a-kind prototypes for neurobiological research. Applications will include development of systems, sub-assemblies and component parts.
  • Study project concepts, objectives, priorities, and requirements as well as analyze user and potential user input to identify and establish performance requirements and test methods for developed systems. Translate these requirements into engineering concepts, designs and plans.
  • Estimate upfront costs, and then track time, effort, supplies, and materials costs to enable proper charges to customers.
  • Review existing and/or create new detailed drawings, bills of materials, and other documentation to ensure accurate technical records are produced.
  • Work collaboratively with internal research customers and a multi-disciplinary jET team.
  • Review or coordinate vendor activities to support development as needed.
  • Communicate all activities within assigned projects with the research customer, jET team members, Engineering Manager and Director.
  • Recommend actions for professional self-development.
  • Other duties, as assigned.

  • This position has limited project budgetary responsibilities.
  • Occasional travel required.
  • Occasional weekend or off-hours work required.
  • Utilizes internal resources and outside contractors to achieve project and department goals.

Physical Requirements:
  • May require lifting and/or carrying objects weighing up to 40 pounds.
  • Regularly stoops and bends.
  • Regularly reaches and grasps with arms and hands.
  • Long periods of standing and/or sitting.
  • Work involves possible exposure to biological organisms, malodorous odors, low dose radiation, exposure to toxic chemicals and/or presence of carcinogenic substances.

Optical Engineering Qualifications:


Bachelor in Optical Engineering. Master's degree in Optics or an advanced degree in AMO physics is a plus.

  • Hands-on experience in optical design, tolerancing, testing, assembling and troubleshooting optical instrumentation is preferred.
  • Familiarity with R&D instrument development for neuroscience, life science or natural science research is a plus.
  • Hand-on experience in photonics is preferred.

Skills and Abilities

  • Strong technical aptitude in optical engineering theory, principles, and practice. Ability to perform optical designs and simulations in appropriate software such as ZEMAX.
  • Excellent interpersonal skills including both verbal and written communication.
  • Ability to create mechanical parts and assemblies, as well as create necessary fabrication documentation using 3D CAD modeling software packages such as Autodesk Inventor.
  • Ability to translate varied and potentially ambiguous customer requests, which will be of a scientific as well as technical nature, into project requirements and design options.
  • Knowledge and understanding of relevant optical fabrication, metrology and testing techniques.
  • Ability to describe and explain design concepts, theory of operation, usage and instructions for developed designs.
  • Ability to work concurrently on multiple projects for various research groups and prioritize tasks so that work is performed efficiently.

  • Familiarity with systems engineering software (e.g. LabVIEW).
  • Familiarity with scientific computing software (e.g. MATLAB, Python, etc.).
  • Familiarity using documentation management software (e.g. Autodesk Vault).
  • Knowledge of electro-mechanical systems: servos, positioning systems, piezoelectric devices, position feedback devices.

HHMI is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

Back to top