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Students' Optics Project Attracts Attention, Earns Honors at International Capstone Design Competition

Monday, December 21, 2015

Open Optics: Optical engineering students Juliana Richter and Tyler Nuanes put the finishing touches on a student project in one of the Department of Physics and Optical Engineering's laboratories.

A new twist on a classic optical metrology tool, the Twyman-Green Interferometer, created by three Rose-Hulman students, earned respect and high praise from judges, professional engineers, and other competitors at the Engineering Education Festa's 2015 International Capstone Design Competition in Seoul, South Korea.

A long line of interested onlookers could be found within minutes after the project was unveiled among the many exhibits by students from universities and colleges throughout China, Korea, Malaysia, Portugal, and the United States. In fact, the project attracted so much attention that contest judges had to go on to view other booths before returning.

Eventually, the senior-year work by optical engineering students Tyler Nuanes and Juliana Richter, and engineering physics student Michael Grayson earned third-place honors in the competition.

This marks the second straight year that a Rose-Hulman student team has had an award-winning project at the competition.

"We were able to develop an interesting and useful tool within a short time and present it very effectively to a large number of people. I think that's a great success," says Nuanes. "Attending the conference was just as valuable a learning experience as immersing ourselves in the local culture for a few days. It was a really fantastic experience."

The project split a highly-coherent laser beam, reflected the beams, and then recombined them to compare the wavefront differences incurred along the separate paths-revealing thickness changes, material changes, or temperature variations.

Specifically, the students could put stress on plastic, causing local variations in the thickness and observations of areas of high strain.

Innovative techniques featured the development of a software tool capable of correlating the change in fringes to the temperature of the air around a hot object. Elements of the project may now be used to help in the design of heat sinks, as the motion of the heat leaving the sink may be analyzed for different designs to get a more visual understanding of how the designs function.

Studying areas of high strain also may be useful in designing components, as it is easy to take highly-accurate measurements of hundreds of nanometers of deformation. This may lead engineers to redesign their components or understand intuitively which areas need reinforcement.

Elements of the project came from the team's senior-year design project, but all of the work for the competition was completed as an extracurricular academic activity. The project was largely collaborative, but Grayson had the painstaking task of aligning all of the optical components; Richter selected components and setup the interactive exhibit, and Nuanes prepared all the materials for the conference presentation. Robert Bunch, professor of physics and optical engineering, was the team's faculty mentor.