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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Settling In...

In settling into a five week visit to a professional research lab, the first feeling that I'll admit to is being totally overwhelmed. The technology that is being used is stacked, layer upon layer to build the machines and devices that are used in research. One thing that all of this technology has in common is that at the Photonics center, it has to do with light.

The second this is that it has to do with building super-small devices, like some of the ones shown here: (in this image, you can see some of the stuff that can be built using the e-beam, or electron beam machine.) Using the e-beam machine, researchers can cut or build tiny structures onto wafers. These structures can do nearly anything depending on what they're built from - they could be holes, like my research group uses, or they could be circuits or diffraction gratings that split light and make it interfere. When you can build down to the scale of a few nanometers, you can build just about anything.

This week, I am doing two things - helping out in designing a lab for a high school nanocamp program which will happen in a couple of weeks, and looking over the shoulders of members of our group as they do some of their work. It's kind of schizophrenic, like I don't have enough time to do anything well, or understand what's going on anywhere. I don't see most of the post-docs or researchers operating like that, and that's a good sign. Maybe we'll get a better grip as the week goes by.

The nanocamp is a week-long program that Prof. Altug is running, and it is open to high school students from all over the country. Here is a little blurb about the program from a BU blog. The program is part of the Boston Public School's Upward Bound program, and we are designing the entire day's program hoping to give the high school kids an honest flavor to the program through our lab and background materials. I was really impressed with Prof. Altug too - I know from listening to her that she will be amazing with high school kids, which is not an ability that just everybody has.

For nanocamp, we are building a lab based around the topic of diffraction. Since the early 1900's, folks have used light to see things that were too tiny to actually seen directly. Since that time, researchers have used diffraction to study crystals, unravel the mystery of DNA's structure, and study counless other chemicals. An entire branch of science, called crystallography, is based on the process of studying scattering. At BU, researchers in the Photonics center are doing things with light that will boggle your mind - controlling it on a level that I never would have thought possible. As I get a clue about this stuff, and how they do it, I'll share as best I can!

Today we're off to the clean room, so we're headed toward the sharper end of the pencil soon!

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