The Problem

Shaky laser.  All of Kansas States Atomics, Molecular, and Optics Faculty share a single laser called the Kansas Light Source (KLS) and use it to perform experiments.  However, the laser is pretty complicated, so its all kept in one spot and the beam is transported into all the other labs using a system of mirrors.  To get to some of the labs, the beam has to travel enough distance for the position of the beam to become unstable.  The beam can be unstable enough to interfere with some experiments, and some people felt they couldn't perform some experiments they wanted to because of the position problem.


The Solution

Analog electronics.  When I arrived at KState, Brett DePaola had a schematic for what he called the Pointing Stabilizer ready to go.  It was a circuit that took input from photo diodes, telling the circuit where the laser was, and moved a mirror mount to keep the laser centered on the diodes.  The first part of my job was to put the schematic on a breadboard.  As I did it, we came across things in the schematic that needed changing, and we decided on things that needed to be added.  With help from the team, I made these changes and additions until we reached the current version of the schematic, which is almost twice as large as the original.  Once the breadboard was complete, I was to design a PC Board, build it, and test it to see if it worked.  Designing that was difficult; it was a complicated 2 sided PC Board.  Once the board was complete, I drilled the holes and put on the electronics myself.  It didn't work, so I troubleshot it and made the necessary changes, then I put it in a box.  After ten weeks, its ready to move into the final tests.  If it passes those tests, it will be sent away to a Board House that will make copies for us so that we can get these Pointing Stabilizers all over the lab.  I also wrote a rough draft of a paper that we will attempt to publish.  Most importantly, I learned a lot of things about analog electronics.  I now feel comfortable planning them on paper, making them by hand every step of the way, testing them to make sure they work, and fixing them if they do not.  I think that my experience here at KState was invaluable.


In Addition

Apart from the work that I did in the lab with my advisor and my group, the KState Faculty offered us two optional lectures a week on a wide variety of topics in physics, and once a week we were lectured by professors from the Philosophy Department about Ethics in science.  The lectures were valuable to us, not only for general physics knowledge, but also for those of us who needed refreshers with the GRE's right around the corner.