The summer months serve as a vacation from academia for many college students, but for one undergraduate visiting Kansas State University it's been a chance to shine a new light on the field of measurement.
Jennifer Black, a senior at Southern Polytechnic State University in Georgia, was working with Brian Washburn, associate professor of physics at K-State, on a nonlinear optics project. Her research was through the K-State physics department's 2010 Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.
Black's project focused on building an ultrafast pulse laser.
"My project involves taking photonic bandgap fiber, which is a fiber containing a series of well-placed holes, and putting a carbon nanotube polymer solution into the center hole. Then we hope to mode-lock a fiber laser using this solution-filled fiber," said Black, a Marietta, Ga., resident.
Mode-locking a laser would cause it to emit pulses of light in an extremely short duration, on the order of picoseconds or femtoseconds. The results could be significant in metrology, the science of measurement, since the laser would give very precise measurements and could be used as a laser-guided ruler. It also could be significant in the field of spectroscopy, the study of an object's light into its component colors/energies, Black said.
Should her trials prove successful, Black plans to publish her research in a scientific journal.
"Although I haven’t had success yet, I believe this is possible," she said. "It's a very difficult project."
The National Science Foundation has funded the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program in physics at K-State since 1992. The program is an effort to stimulate interest in graduate education and a research career. It provides opportunities for students from Kansas and across the country to conduct significant research in a supportive environment. Last summer 14 undergraduate students were participating in physics, with similar programs in biology, mathematics, psychology, and chemical engineering at K-State.
Funding for Black's research was also made possible by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.