Engineering Alumna on Oscar Winning Team for Disruptive Technology

When Laura K. Harvey attended LSU, she enrolled in a math course “for fun.” But after some encouragement from her father and a family friend, the then-music major discovered another passion: engineering.

Nearly 20 years later, Harvey has continued to blend her love of science and entertainment. In February, she was part of a team that was awarded a famous, golden Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for its work developing technology for motion pictures.

A Baton Rouge native, Harvey graduated from LSU in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering. Her minor concentration was computer science. She also continued to study music. In fact, the last final of her college career was a pipe organ jury at First United Methodist Church.

After graduation, Harvey landed her first job at Texas Instruments, in Dallas, writing software for the TI-89 and TI-92 graphic calculators. (She actually has two patents related to that effort: Selection of Mathematical Objects From The History Screen on a Handheld Device, shared with Malgorzata A. Brothers, and the Subexpression Selection of Expressions Represented In Contiguous Tokenized Polish Representation, shared with Todd Fortenberry).

In 2001, Harvey joined the DLP® Cinema team, a group formed in the mid-90s to develop a digital projector based on the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD) that Dr. Larry Hornbeck invented in 1987. The DMD chip has thousands of microscopic mirrors that reflect pixels to be displayed bright or dark depending on the mirror “on or off state.” In 1999, the first DLP Cinema projector made its debut with "Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace," the first full-length motion picture shown with DLP Cinema technology, and it kicked off a decade-plus long transition from 35-mm motion picture film to digital in the motion picture industry.

When Harvey joined the team, it was focused on adding core capabilities to ensure that the momentum fueling the digital revolution continued. One such capability was digital subtitling, for which Harvey developed a software foundation.

Harvey’s early years were challenging, but fun. The team worked long hours and traveled the world, as far away as Bangkok and Amsterdam, to convince the movie industry that their disruptive technology was the way to go. Nearly 15 years later, DLP Cinema technology can be found on more than 118,000 theatre screens throughout the world. Adoption of DLP technology expedites the studio’s distribution of movies and delivers viewers consistent color-accurate pictures.

Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents Scientific and Technical Awards to recognize significant milestones in the development of technology for motion pictures. This year, Dr. Hornbeck, the inventor of the DMD, was presented an Oscar at the 87th Awards Ceremony held on Saturday, Feb. 7, at The Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Harvey, along with a few others from the original team, attended.

As Dr. Hornbeck kindly stated that night, “It's wonderful to be recognized by the Academy. Following the initial inventions that defined the core technology, I was fortunate to work with a team of brilliant Texas Instruments engineers to turn the first DMD into a disruptive innovation.”

Harvey remains part of DLP. Currently, she is a Program Manager for the company’s Advanced Light Control group, where she manages programs targeted at using the DMD in non-traditional markets such as digital lithography, machine vision, and 3D printing. Harvey, formerly Fitzsimons, currently resides in Dallas, TX, with her husband Arthur D. Harvey, who is a 1996 LSU electrical engineering graduate. When not chasing after her two toddlers, Harvey can be found training for marathons at White Rock Lake, TX.


Article by Erica Pater, Assistant Manager of External Relations, LSU College of Enginering