Student-professor team conducts optics research in New York
August 5, 2010 By Leigh Ivey
at The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester. There,
the team is researching a class of silicon-based optical resonators.
Yang, Neiser and their fellow researchers have spent much time
together outside the lab and recently took a trip to Niagara Falls.
The summer has been an active one for Yang, who has ventured
outside the lab to take biking trips to Lake Ontario, the Erie
Canal and elsewhere.
Rising junior Jerry Yang of Chengdu, Sichuan province, China, has been spending the summer preparing for life after Centre College. A physics and math double major who plans to pursue an engineering career, Yang is currently conducting research with Centre physics professor Dr. Jason Neiser at the University of Rochester in New York.
The research team is spending two months at the university’s Institute of Optics, where they are investigating a class of silicon-based optical resonators.
“At the most basic level, a resonator collects and circulates light from a narrow wavelength range through a very small volume,” Neiser explains. “Our particular resonator design could potentially be modified to serve several distinct purposes: modulating, detecting or even producing light in silicon.”
Yang adds that their summer research “involves basic optics lab work, including setting up apparatuses, aligning lasers, taking measurements and analyzing data,” Yang says.
During the first few days of his time in New York, Yang attended a three-day course in electron microscopy, learning how scanning electron microscopes and transmission electron microscopes work, as well as how to prepare samples for those instruments.
“Learning how to use scanning electron microscopes is important,” Yang says, “because the structures we study have features on the nanometer scale, so we need to make sure that we have the appropriate tool to measure and look at the devices we made.”
One of the many aspects of the research Yang enjoys is “walking into my advisor’s office on Monday morning, mapping out our plan for the week and following those plans. I enjoy when we encounter problems along the way, then go to the board and think about them. Problem-solving is a very important skill in science, and when my suggestion gets used for our experiment, I add a point to my confidence level.”
Although Yang had not worked in a lab similar to that at The Institute of Optics and had only just begun to learn about working on an optical table before heading to New York, he says he is now “capable of doing some experiments and even aligning laser beams on my own. It’s not that hard to pick up, but sometimes it’s so hard to fit in all the optical components to fulfill the experiment requirements with the tight space on the table.”
Yang and Neiser, who earned his Ph.D. from The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester (after graduating from Centre in 1999), have been working with the research group of Thomas Brown, a Professor of Optics and the Director of the Robert E. Hopkins Center for Optical Design and Engineering.
“Jerry has become very adept in the lab in a short time,” Neiser says. “Our experiment is fairly demanding from an alignment standpoint because of the various asymmetries of the structures we’re investigating. Since Jerry was able to acquire some very nice reflectance data early in the project, we’ve been able to add more facets to the experiment in the last couple of weeks.”
Outside the lab, the Centre and Rochester research teams have been busy as well. They recently took a trip to Niagara Falls, which Yang describes as “the most amazing natural scene I've ever seen in my life.” Yang has also biked to Lake Ontario, explored part of the Erie Canal and visited George Eastman’s House, the International Museum of Photography and Films. “I'm planning to take one or two more explorations before the end of our research,” he says.
From his excursions to his time in the lab, this summer has been an exceptionally rewarding one for Yang. Because he is considering an engineering career, he believes the summer’s research has given him “a sense of science research, graduate school and real-world life.” Having made friends with graduate students at the University of Rochester, he has also learned more about “how graduate school research functions in general.”
“I believe the best way to figure out what I want to do in the future is to try those things I’m interested in and pick my favorite,” he says. “We can’t try everything in life, but this research experience is a great opportunity to help me make decisions about whether I will go to graduate school in optics. It may also affect my career path.”