Olson Research Group

Olson Research Group

Sub–Molecular Tunneling Spectroscopy


Dr. Olson is an analytical chemist who specializes in surface chemistry, materials chemistry, and quantum physical chemistry. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin working under the direction of Arthur B. Ellis and Robert J. Hamers. Dr. Olson’s curriculum vitae can be found here.

Portrait of Joel A. Olson


Dr. Olson grew up in the upper Midwest, specifically Upper Peninsula Michigan and southern Wisconsin. At the age of 17 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he served as a Hospital Corpsman and a U.S. Navy SEAL (SEAL Team 5 in Coronado, CA). During his time with SEAL Team 5, he travelled for training to Fallon Nevada, Kodiak Alaska, Adak Alaska, Subic Bay Philippines, Butterworth Malaysia, Guam, Okinawa, and throughout southern California. He completed his enlistment and moved back to southern Wisconsin where he was accepted to the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

As an undergraduate student majoring in chemistry at the University of Wisconsin, Dr. Olson became involved in researching the optical and chemical properties of II-VI semiconductor surfaces, as well as developing materials for chemical education, working under the direction of Arthur B. Ellis.  His research resulted in a publication in the Journal of Physical Chemistry. Undergraduate research had a profound impact on Dr. Olson, motivating him to pursue graduate studies. For this reason, Dr. Olson is deeply dedicated toward involving undergraduate and high school students in research activities.

Dr. Olson attended graduate school also at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. There he worked under the dual supervision of Arthur B. Ellis and Robert J. Hamers. For his dissertation project Dr. Olson constructed a scratch-built scanning tunneling microscope (STM) from basic mechanical and electronic components. He then used his STM to investigate tip-induced chemical reactions on cleaved surfaces of cadmium selenide.

Upon completion of his Ph.D., Dr. Olson accepted a position as a Principal Chemist at Ecolab, Inc. in St. Paul, MN. While at Ecolab, Dr. Olson gained familiarity with a number of analytical methods including NMR, IR microscopy, SEM with EDS, optical microscopy, and residue analysis. While he learned a great deal working in industrial chemistry, Dr. Olson decided to leave Ecolab to pursue an academic career.

From Ecolab, Dr. Olson obtained a position as a Visiting Associate Professor in the Chemistry Department at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, MN.  At St. Thomas, Dr. Olson taught General Chemistry 1 and 2. He also had the opportunity to direct an undergraduate chemist in research.

After one year as a Visiting Assistant Professor at St. Thomas, Dr. Olson became a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the laboratory of Philippe Buhlmann in the Chemistry Department at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis.  While at Minnesota, Dr. Olson utilized STM to investigate the interactions of chemically-modified STM tips with molecular monolayers adsorbed onto graphite. This work resulted in a publication in Analytical Chemistry.

From the University of Minnesota, Dr. Olson accepted a permanent faculty position at Florida Institute of Technology. His research has been directed toward the use of STM to investigate the quantum mechanical properties of molecules that are of interest for their pharmaceutical, and other chemical properties. To see a more in-depth description of Dr. Olson’s research, please see his Research page via the link at the top.

Dr. Olson enjoys spending time with his family, playing guitar, kayaking Florida's numerous waterways, off-road bicycling, and he is an avid board and role-playing game enthusiast.

Contact Information

If you have any questions regarding the Olson Research Group, please contact:

Dr. Joel A. Olson 
Associate Professor 
Department of Chemistry 
Florida Institute of Technology 
150 West University Boulevard 
Melbourne, FL 32901 
Phone: (321) 674-7350