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Physics and Optical Engineering Students Get Unique Research Experiences at U.S. National Laboratories' Synchrotron Radiation Facilities
August 8, 2013
Sudipa Kirkley, PhD
Witnessing electrons accelerated to nearly the speed of light is just one of the many adventures for Rose-Hulman
physics and optical engineering students while working alongside Professor Sudipa Kirtley, PhD, in studies conducted at some of the U.S. government’s most advanced research laboratories.
The methodology of x-ray absorption spectroscopy with synchrotron radiation is a powerful, direct, and non-destructive way of identifying the various chemical structures of a particular element. In a synchrotron radiation facility, electrons are accelerated to relativistic speeds (close to that of the speed of light) in curved trajectories along the ring.
“The resulting synchrotron radiation is extremely powerful, and x-ray absorption spectroscopy is one of its many uses,” says Kirtley, professor of physics and optical engineering.
Throughout her faculty tenure, Kirtley has been analyzing sulfur chemical moieties at the Brookhaven National Laboratory’s National Synchrotron Light Source, Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s Advanced Light Source. She has involved undergraduate and graduate students in her studies.
“Scientists from all over the world use these facilities, and it is a privilege for Rose-Hulman students to be part of this group,” says the professor. “The students learn about the optics of the particular beam lines, the optimization of the beam parameters for their purposes, effective data acquisition, and meaningful data analyses. One of my proposal reviewers mentioned in his comments that this synchrotron work is not meant for undergraduates.”
Students Chung-Hei (William) Lo, Grant Brodnik, and Michael Gerhardt assisted Kirtley during this summer’s Argonne National Laboratory (ANL) research activities.
Summer Research: Grant Brodnik, a senior optical engineering major, spent part of this summer conducting research at the Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source near Chicago. (Photo provided)
“Conducting research at ANL was an incredible experience,” says Brodnik, a senior optical engineering major. “We put in a lot of hours at the lab, but it rarely felt like work due to the challenging and stimulating nature of the project. As an undergraduate student, opportunities to conduct research at world class facilities such as ANL are rare. I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to brush shoulders with scientists who are at the top of their fields and are leading the world in cutting-edge research.”
He continued: “My experience at ANL has given me a new appreciation for the amount of work and dedication that go into conducting research. This experience has helped me grow as a student and was a great learning experience to prepare me for my academic future in graduate school.”
Lo and Gerhardt are senior physics majors.
Data collected from these experiments at the beam lines are analyzed at Rose-Hulman. This research has resulted in several academic journal articles, with students as co-authors, along with oral and poster presentations at regional, national, and international conferences. These efforts helped Kirtley receive the Board of Trustees’ Outstanding Scholar Award in 2009. The award annually honors a faculty member who demonstrates a commitment to excellence in creative scholarly activities.