Christopher Culbreath

Physicist · Educator · Programmer · Machinist


San Luis Obispo, CA


(805) 234–0847


As a critical thinker with a passion for solving complex problems, I’m a trained physicist and experienced educator eager to apply my diverse skillset in a collaborative environment. My expertise in physics has equipped me with exceptional problem-solving abilities, innovative thinking, and the persistence needed to drive projects to completion.

With experience in materials science, automation engineering, and teaching, I bring a multidisciplinary perspective for finding creative solutions. I’m keen to join forces with a talented team of engineers who share my enthusiasm for tackling challenges and achieving excellence.

Efficiency is at the core of my work ethic; as an effective leader and trusted collaborator, I am dedicated to working methodically and systematically while developing the right tools to ensure success. My strong communication abilities have enabled me to form lasting, fruitful partnerships throughout my career.

Embracing vertical integration, I’ve honed skills across various aspects of my work — from developing bespoke software to precision machining my own tools. I have also expanded my abilities with professional experience in photography, computer repair, and print production. This rich tapestry of skills allows me to navigate challenges from multiple angles.

With an appetite for working alongside driven colleagues on exciting projects, my combination of critical thinking, technical knowledge, leadership skills, and unwavering motivation will prove invaluable in any technical endeavor.

To learn more about my past projects and specific areas of interest, please explore the content below.


Materials Physics

As an experimental and computational physicist, I have extensively researched active materials, including liquid crystals and shape memory alloys. I specialize in custom automated instrumentation for novel measurements and observations as well as developing molecular dynamics, optical transmission, and director relaxation simulations. Recently, my focus has been on mentoring undergraduate physics students at Cal Poly through accessible, multi-disciplinary projects that enhance and complement the institution's renowned 'learn by doing' teaching approach.

Data Science

Expertise in data analysis forms an integral part of my experimental physics background. Utilizing various computational and automation tools, I can efficiently process data and uncover trends. With a deep understanding of data collection, normalization, error analysis, and visualization, I excel in developing mathematical models to compare datasets. My advanced knowledge of statistics, linear algebra, and differential equations reinforces my strong analytical foundation.

Automation Engineering

With hands-on experience designing, building, and implementing automated systems across diverse applications, I have honed my skills as an automation engineer. Developing control systems with both hardware and software components, combined with expertise in programming languages such as Python and LabVIEW, enables me to rapidly prototype and test ideas. By delivering automation solutions that improve efficiency, accuracy, and reduce human error, I consistently prioritize the most effective and efficient solutions for any given task.

Communication and Leadership

Strong communication and leadership skills have been crucial in my roles as a physicist, educator, and project manager. My experience mentoring undergraduate physics students has not only helped me connect with my audience but also allowed me to tailor my teaching style to their unique needs. As a team leader, I prioritize clear communication and collaboration with cross-functional teams to drive projects toward successful outcomes. In all aspects of my work, effective communication remains the key to fostering meaningful connections, whether it's while leading a project, delivering presentations, explaining complex concepts, or capturing the essence of a wedding through photographs.

Web Development

With a life-long appreciation for intuitive, well-designed software, I've honed my web development skills to bring innovative solutions to life. My experience in full-stack web development covers front-end technologies such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and Bootstrap. Within academic roles, I've developed a custom course-management system, gradebook, flashcard web-app for memorizing student names, and a system for students to submit and receive feedback on their work online during the pandemic. Outside academia, Chore Cloud—a chore and money management site—found its origins in a homegrown solution to supervising my kids' chores.

Photography and Print

As an award-winning portrait photographer and professional wedding photographer, I excel in documentary-style photography with a touch of whimsy. My technical expertise was fortified both behind the camera and as a researcher designing optical systems for experimental observation. In addition, my experience in print production includes offset press operation, pre-press processing, page layout, and graphic design.


An informal apprenticeship with a precision machinist provided me with a solid foundation in fabrication techniques such as CNC machining, lathe work, and manual milling. This apprenticeship imparted a profound understanding of material properties and their effect on the machining process, equipping me to create high-precision parts and components with tight tolerances. My versatile experience with fabrication tools (including milling machines and lathes) and computer-aided manufacturing techniques has allowed me to tackle a wide range of fabrication projects. This skillset has been invaluable in laboratory settings and fosters my passion for turning ideas into reality.






2016 – present

Cal Poly

Senior Lecturer, Physics Department

San Luis Obispo, California

As a senior lecturer, I instruct 70-120 undergraduate engineers and scientists each quarter across various courses such as mechanics, waves, optics, thermodynamics, electricity, and magnetism. I have also enhanced students' learning experience by integrating real-world applications into my evidence-based curriculum. My research at Cal Poly involves establishing an active materials lab and supervising Frost Summer Scholar students on multi-disciplinary projects that align with my expertise in experimental and computational physics.

2019 – 2021


(formerly Nuance Designs)

Materials Scientist and Automation Engineer

San Luis Obispo, California

At NRD, my initial efforts were focused on refining a prototype auto-injector based on a novel liquid-vapor equilibrium propellant design. As a Materials Scientist, I developed theoretical models and simulated the thermodynamic properties of the device while working on the development of a propellant purification methodology. My responsibilities also included creating an automated high-throughput process for exhaustive temperature cycling to identify optimal operating conditions. Later, at my recommendation, Elastium Technologies contracted with NRD for the continued development of their single-crystal shape memory furnace. Utilizing my expertise in materials science and automation engineering, current efforts are underway to scale and refine this novel process for commercial-scale production, executing process improvements and contributing to the overall success of the project.

2017 – 2018

Elastium Technologies

Materials Science and Automation Consultant

San Leandro, California

Elastium Technologies enlisted my expertise to develop an automation control scheme for their newly-developed single-crystal shape-memory continuous casting furnace. In this role, I designed and implemented custom software in LabVIEW, enabling precise control of system temperature, atmosphere, and pull rate, optimizing the conditions for producing high-quality products. Additionally, I served as a consultant to assist in refining their innovative technique for manufacturing single-crystal shape memory wire. My guidance, combined with my knowledge of materials science and automation engineering, contributed significantly to the project's success and the development of the company's unique manufacturing process.

2015 – 2016

Chico State University

Physics Lecturer

Chico, California

As a valued member of the faculty at Chico State University, I taught introductory courses in calculus-based mechanics and no-calculus versions of electricity and magnetism, effectively engaging classes of 48-120 students. During my tenure, I fostered a positive classroom environment through engaging instruction methods and my passion for physics, catering to the diverse learning needs of students. By incorporating real-world applications, hands-on exercises, and thought-provoking concepts in my curriculum, I contributed significantly to enhancing the academic experience in the physics department.

2011 – 2015

Iconic Photography

Owner · Photographer

Kent, Ohio

During my time in Kent, Ohio, I co-owned and operated Iconic Photography alongside Nik Glazar. Our photography business was recognized for its exceptional quality and outstanding customer service. By consistently delivering top-notch results, we earned rave reviews and numerous word-of-mouth recommendations from our satisfied clients.

2005 – 2008


Senior Technician

San Luis Obispo, California

At MacSuperstore, my expertise in both hardware and software made me a valuable resource within the sales and service team. Rapidly advancing through the ranks, I was promoted to Senior Technician and obtained Apple Certifications in Desktop Repair, Portable Repair, and Mac OS X Support (valid from 2006 to 2009). My technical acumen contributed to enhancing customer experiences and ensured efficient resolution of diverse technical issues.



Cal Poly

B.S. Physics

San Luis Obispo, California
At Cal Poly, I completed my Bachelor of Science degree in Physics, establishing a robust and versatile foundation for my career. Through a rigorous curriculum and a renowned "learn by doing" teaching approach that emphasized hands-on instruction, I gained a strong foundation in both theoretical and experimental physics. This comprehensive education allowed me to graduate as a skilled experimentalist, fully prepared for the challenges of graduate school or industry work from day one. This solid background has been instrumental in shaping the knowledge and skills I've applied throughout my professional and academic pursuits.

Sherburne Sculptures

Apprentice Machinist

Atascadero, California
At Sherburne Sculptures, I honed my skills as an apprentice machinist, gaining hands-on experience in various fabrication techniques and machinery operations. Under the guidance of skilled professionals, I acquired a strong understanding of material properties, machining processes, and the intricacies of creating high-quality products. This experience laid the foundation for my passion for turning ideas into reality and continues to positively influence my technical expertise across diverse disciplines.


I am a materials physicist with a focus on custom instrumentation. I have built one-of-a-kind, novel instruments for making precise measurements and improving accuracy. My investigations span liquid crystalline material properties, applications of single-crystal shape memory alloys, and the commercial fabrication of single-crystal SMA wires.

My research approach emphasizes the design and construction of versatile, unique instruments for studying liquid crystal systems. Developing and building custom instruments from scratch offers significant benefits: Each machine is perfectly suited for its intended task, and costs far less than a commercial counterpart. By guiding students through the design, fabrication, and automation processes, I promote collaboration and foster meaningful learning experiences, something that Cal Poly's student-focused approach greatly supports. Breaking down research projects—including instrument design, fabrication, refinement, measurement, and analysis—into senior-project-sized tasks encourages teamwork and fosters effective collaboration. In today's era of open-source code and affordable micro-controllers, physics students can create robots, automate everyday tasks, and collect vast amounts of data from their surroundings. When designed to demonstrate or test a physical concept, these projects enable students to bring their imagination to life while fostering academic growth and engagement. Hands-on learning not only drives profound academic progress but instills a passion for physics that makes learning enjoyable for everyone.

Liquid Crystals

My research primarily focuses on the material properties and electro-optic applications of liquid crystals. These fascinating substances can be thought of as rod-shaped molecules. In their simplest phase, known as the nematic phase, liquid crystals exhibit preferential alignment with one another, displaying orientational but not positional order. They flow like typical liquids while demonstrating macroscopic anisotropy in accordance with their average alignment direction. While the preferential alignment exists, the exact direction of alignment remains arbitrary, making boundary forces crucial in determining the bulk phase's orientational behavior. The overall orientation is anchored in a preferred manner due to the prepared alignment surface. The anchoring interaction that determines liquid crystal alignment is not fully understood, which makes photoalignment surface properties an intriguing area of active research. Although mechanical confinement of liquid crystals is a relatively simple concept, it has garnered limited experimental attention. However, this confinement serves as an excellent tool for investigating photoalignment anchoring and generating novel defect structures on photo-aligned substrates. Moreover, I have explored in-situ photoalignment techniques to establish a well-defined relationship between incident light sources and liquid crystal directors in order to enhance conventional liquid crystal material characterizations.

Specific topics: Nematic Anchoring Strength · Pancharatnam Phase Devices · Photo Alignment · Defect Loops · Interference Metrology · Director Simulation · Surface Defect Stuctures
Shape Memory Alloys

Automatic fire-suppression sprinklers play a crucial role in preventing property damage and saving lives. However, the widespread use of industry-standard glass-bulb sprinklers comes with a significant drawback: their delicate nature makes them susceptible to accidental breakage and sabotage. In the United States, an average of over 120 non-fire sprinkler activations occurs daily, leading to millions of dollars in property damage and lost business. Our innovative SMA-based sprinkler aims to offer the durability, performance, and affordability needed to become the new industry standard. "Shape-memory" refers to the ability of certain materials to recover from plastic deformation. Shape memory alloys (SMAs) are a class of active materials that experience a diffusionless solid-to-solid lattice distortion during a structural phase transformation, significantly altering their mechanical properties and shape. The key feature of this phase transition is a direct mapping of constituent atoms from one crystalline phase to another. Rather than undergoing random diffusion, atomic constituents shift correlatively from one configuration to the next, providing SMAs with unique characteristics suitable for various applications.


  • C. Long , M. Deutsch, J. Angelo, C. Culbreath, H. Yokoyama, J. Selinger and R. Selinger. “Frank-Read Mechanism in Nematic Liquid Crystals.” arXiv preprint arXiv:2212.01316 (2022)
  • Angelo, J., C. Culbreath, and H. Yokoyama. “Breaking Planar Liquid Crystal Anchoring to Form Controllable Twist Disclination Loops.” Molecular Crystals and Liquid Crystals 646.1 (2017)
  • N.Glazar, C. Culbreath, Y. Li, H. Yokoyama: “Switchable liquid crystal phase shift mask for super-resolution photolithography based on Pancharatnam-Berry phase” Appl. Phys. Express. 8 116501 (2015)
  • Culbreath, Christopher. “Artificial Microscopic Structures in Nematic Liquid Crystals Created by Patterned Photoalignment and Controlled Confinement: Instrumentation, Fabrication and Characterization.” Kent State University. Print Dissertation. (2015)
  • C. Culbreath, N. Glazar and H. Yokoyama. “Automated maskless micro-multidomain photoalignment” Rev. Sci. Instrum. 82, 126107 (2011).


A successful course hinges on a strong foundation, integrating engaging blackboard lectures, relevant homework assignments, supportive office hours, and a positive class culture. My lectures introduce topics concisely through step-by-step examples, addressing student misconceptions along the way. I design lecture notes as detailed resources for all learners, including those forced to miss class.

By incorporating enthusiasm, creative demonstrations, and a passion for the subject, my courses become immersive learning experiences. Students appreciate my excitement, dedication, and unwavering support amid challenges. In addition to establishing a positive learning environment, I also adapt flexibly to students' needs and encourage their input on course structure, making the learning experience more individualized and relatable.

Underpinning my approach is the belief that enjoyable and well-rounded educational experiences empower students to tackle complex problems while deepening their understanding. Furthermore, by encouraging open communication and mutual support among peers and instructors, my courses promote meaningful connections that extend far beyond the classroom.

Academic Success

I build my courses as a whole package, with beautiful documents, well-tailored assignments, hand-prepared solutions, engaging lecture slides, online video tutorials, and comprehensive exams. Students review my courses as challenging, yet their satisfaction remains high. My 2022 Cal Poly Personnel Action File, provides a comprehensive overview of my teaching philosophy, course materials, and accomplishments.


In order to visualize dynamic phenomena and to engage students outside of the classroom, I produce rich multimedia content to enhance my courses. For my introductory courses I have produced two types of online videos: homework-style example videos, showing every step of the problem with commentary, and tutorial videos for extra instruction beyond the time constraints of in-class lecture. In addition, I have produced vector animations to illustrate time-dependent and three dimensional ideas that cannot be adequately communicated from the chalkboard.

Visit my YouTube channel, and check out my animation gallery to see more.

Student Comments

Dr. Culbreath is amazing. Definitely one of the top 2 or 3 professors I've had at Cal Poly. His enthusiasm for the material and desire to teach really shows. On certain topics I learned more from his brief lab demos or examples than from lecture or the text. You should seriously give Dr. Culbreath a raise.
I love his lectures.
Culbreath has a very strong understanding of the course material and conveys this to his students.
He was very thorough with information that he taught and having him for lab really helped me to be more engaged in what we learned during lecture. Great Guy!
He’s funny and goes through many examples.
Very good teacher…explains topics thoroughly and well.
He’s passionate about physics and makes it interesting.
He was really passionate about physics and it definitely carried over to us students. He knew a ton of material both in this course and well beyond.
He has a lot of energy and understands how hard physics is for non-physics loving people.
His teaching methods are simple but effective. I understand almost anything in the class. His tone of voice during lecture is fantastic and makes me see his passion for physics.
He was excited about the topic and was ALWAYS available for help with questions.
In every lecture he's interactive and excited to teach. He is by far one of the more remarkable professors I have had in capturing and maintaining my attention.
Professor Culbreath is a great professor. He is young and understands the minds of the youth with respect to how they attain information, thus caters his labs to the benefit of maximizing the absorption of information for his students.He has the most passion about what he knows than any professor I have had at Cal Poly, which definitely there need to be more of. I love being in classes where the professor is passionate about what they are teaching, because if they are, the students are thus passionate about the material, which breeds unfathomable benefits for the student...
Professor Culbreath is a fantastic teacher. He makes the content understandable, reinforces his teachings with well-rounded homework and classroom examples, very non-intimidating yet educational lab quizzes and ultimately devotes himself to allow every student to make sense of the material. The tests he provides are notoriously hard, but he is fair with his grading curve. He is organized, passionate, approachable and generally enjoyable as a professor. I would recommend him to any one of my peers.
I liked how upbeat Culbreath was during every lecture and lab. He was helpful in providing the necessary equations and examples in class. His slides that are sometimes used during lecture are very helpful. I also liked how on some days there would be mini demonstrations in order to view the concept we were learning.
Overall, loved it. Great class, great professor, great time. Dr. Culbreath was great in interacting with the class and communicating the material. His passionate moments about the subject were contagious, so keep that up. He was a very fair grader, and actually broke that down to a science.
Professor Culbreath was great. I wouldn't recommend any changes to his performance. His lab quizzes were useful and taught us a lot. His lectures were coherent and concise. Any supplemental content he provided was put together very well. His tests are infamously complicated, but his curve is fair.
Instructor has passion for subject that clearly shows in lecture. I especially enjoyed the in class demonstrations in which a scientific principle is demonstrated, and a calculation follows to corroborate the demo. I do not have any improvements to suggest at this time.
Pretty dope dude, 10/10
Dr. Culbreath is fantastic. His lectures are engaging and thorough, and he's incredibly approachable.
In lab Dr. Culbreath was consistently helpful, and the somewhat laid back, do the procedure at your group's pace feel helped a lot.
Dr. Culbreath was always willing to help clarify problem concepts or issues mid lab too, which helped immensely.
Fair, honest, and focused. No problems of any kind.
Lecture content was phenomenal. The in-class conceptual situations and calculation examples were very effective.
Professor Culbreath was a fantastic teacher. He is great at keeping people engaged even during an 8 am lecture, and always goes out of his way to ensure clarity.
Hands down, best professor I have had at cal poly in any support/GE class. He is so caring about his students and enthusiastic with his teaching. I could ask him questions about his family or college experiences and he was so helpful and talkative, it's great.
Prof. Culbreath was a very good professor. He was passionate and explained the materials well. His demonstrations helped to give some meaning to the ideas that we were learning.
Very helpful to the students. He went out of his way to make extra videos for us to watch online.


Throughout my career as a physicist, I have maintained a parallel focus on both experimental and computational physics. My programming skills were initially developed and honed in all corners of my experimental work, including the development of sophisticated data analysis algorithms, coding novel simulations and building fully-automated experimental instruments.

Areas of Experience

Data Analysis
Machine Vision Optical Interference Measurement
In the course of my research I developed software implementing machine vision to optically measure the thickness of my liquid crystal sample. Without user intervention, the final code was able to reliably identify the center of bullseye interference pattern produced in my experiment. Further, the radial intensity of the resulting pattern was then sampled and averaged, the extrema automatically detected. By combining data from many interference patterns, we made a dynamic measurement of the of the evolving bullseye patterns. The resulting points were then fit to a calculated model, such that the thickness of the optical medium could be reliably extracted. The result was a novel mechanism for measuring in-situ sample thickness.
Liquid Crystal Defect Image Analysis
My investigation of topological defects in nematic liquid crystals led to the development of a machine-vision application for detecting and measuring defect loops. Using the software, I measured the evolution of defect loop's area and perimeter from high definition video clips captured during experimental observation.
Adaptive 3D Director Simulation
I took a novel approach to developing a finite-difference numeric simulation for determining three dimensional liquid crystal director configurations. While the director relaxation is calculated by a program written in C, I exploited the symbolic manipulation of Mathematica to generate arbitrarily complicated C-syntax update equations. Using Mathematica, simulation parameters, including the core free-energy expression, can be inputted in familiar human-readable mathematical notation. My Mathematica code also allowed for external forces, periodic, weak or strong boundary conditions, irregular computational meshes (curved boundaries), and arbitrary coordinate systems and natural variables. By using Mathematica to generate the update equations for the C mother-code, the conditions of the simulation can be easily and drastically changed without the need for lengthy hand calculations or the tedious transcription of update equations character-by-character into lines of C-code. Further, the computationally-intensive relaxation mother-code was optimized for performance leveraging the speed advantages of C, free from the computational overhead of Mathematica at runtime.
Simulation: Other Areas of Experience
  • Monte Carlo molecular dynamics and phase behavior
  • Numerics in C
    • Solving ODEs
    • Dataset manipulation and curve fitting
  • FTDT electrodynamics
  • 4x4 Matrix-based optical simulation in anisotropic materials
  • Sytem Modeling using Matlab and Modelica-based Wolfram System Modeler
    • Circuit Analysis
    • Motor Characterization
    • Electro-optical characterization of liquid crystal displays
    • Multibody dynamics
Maskless Polarizing Photolithography System
I was a key member of a research team that designed and implemented a fully automated maskless polarized UV exposure system, for creating multi-domain photo-aligned liquid crystal substrates. The system is equipped with a DMD photo-modulator, multiple motorized translation stages, a motorized polarizer, and a confocal autofocus mechanism. The entire maskless system is automated through a custom developed LabView control application. The LabView code uses dozens of VIs and relies on an event-queue structure to manage the automation of several tasks including: DMD image display, focus motor control, polarization motor control, UV shutter timing, focus peak acquisition and peak detection, and motorized translation of the lower stage substrate.
Dynamic Cell System
In the course of my research, I designed and fabricated a liquid crystal observation system that can dynamically change the twist angle, thickness and temperature of a liquid crystal sample. The twist angle is varied through a mechanical rotation of the cell’s bottom substrate. A stepper motor, piezo actuator and capacitance sensor provide precise closed loop positioning of the upper substrate relative to the bottom substrate. The temperature is regulated by circulating water through a custom thermal chamber which encloses the liquid crystal sample. A schematic diagram of the entire system is shown below. An integrated polarizing microscope, illumination system and camera allow in-situ observation. The system is operated and automated using LabView. The software can vary the thickness, twist, take time lapse photographs, monitor the distance sensor as well as automate these processes for extended data collection. The underlying LabView control was designed with an event-based state-machine architecture to decouple user interaction from data acquisition and processing.
Automation: Other Areas of Experience
  • Arduino data capture, motor control, and system interfacing
  • Labview-based data collection for introductory physics undergraduate laboratory exercises
  • Extensive G-Code programming, automated code generation and fabrication workflow development for computer-controlled milling machines

Web Development

Physics Cloud

Frustrated by the limitations and lack of mobile-friendliness in standard university web systems like Blackboard and PolyLearn, I took matters into my own hands and began developing Physics Cloud in Fall 2016. Designed as an intuitive, custom-built online gradebook and course management system, Physics Cloud caters to the specific needs of my courses and helps facilitate seamless interaction between students and instructors.

Physics Cloud is a mobile-friendly web application integrating PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript technologies, built on the high-performance Yii Application Framework. It serves as a versatile platform for both existing and future online course elements and interactions.

The first phase implementation of Physics Cloud includes a gradebook application with detailed student views that illustrate scores and grade calculations. Additional features include class polling, student preferences, class-meeting scheduling, as well as grader functionality with access control. During the COVID pandemic, I also implemented an online assignment submission feature to adapt seamlessly to remote learning conditions.

Physics Cloud is continually evolving and expanding its potential. Future plans include incorporating interactive simulations and fostering student collaboration. Though a comprehensive demonstration requires authentication to protect sensitive student information, key functionalities are highlighted in the screenshots below.

A meaningful demonstration of Physics Cloud requires authentication and access to sensitive student information, but the key features are highlighted in the screenshots below.


Instructor Gradebook Interface
Student access grade summary
Student access assignment summary
Instructor letter grade configuration
Full class meeting scheduler

Currently Under Development

In-class realtime response system: Student View
In-class realtime response system: Instructor View I
In-class realtime response system: Instructor View II

Chore Cloud

Chore Cloud is a mobile-friendly, web-based chore management platform and digital piggy bank designed to guide your kids through their daily chores and promote accountability.

Main features:

  • Schedule daily morning and evening chores
  • Allocate a daily allowance upon completion of all assigned chores
  • Enforce penalties for incomplete or unexcused chores
  • Automatically send text message notifications for better tracking


Chore Cloud offers a free-to-use platform with comprehensive documentation to help users get started. Text notifications are provided for an annual fee of $6.


Physics Cloud Flashcards

Physics Cloud Flashcards is a convenient web-app that transforms the “Enrolled Student Photos” roster PDF, available to faculty on the Cal Poly portal, into an engaging, mobile-friendly flashcard game.

Built on the Leitner-system algorithm to enhance memorization, the flashcard game presents students' photos for you to guess their names. Once you attempt a guess, the name is revealed. Correctly guessed photos are shown less frequently, while incorrect guesses appear more often, reinforcing your memory. By creating an account and logging in at, you can save your flashcards and track your progress.