July 17, 2012

Summer research students investigate laser light and magnetic fields

Emily Fagan ’14 and Alaina Green ’13 are working alongside Assistant Professor of Physics Shannon O’Leary to discover how laser light interactions are affected by magnetic fields.

At Lewis & Clark, summer doesn’t necessarily mean vacation. Many students spend up to 40 hours a week doing collaborative research with faculty each summer.

Emily Fagan ’14 and Alaina Green ’13 are working alongside Assistant Professor of Physics Shannon O’Leary to discover how laser light interactions are affected by magnetic fields. In this Q&A, the researchers reflect on the value of these experiences.

What are you researching this summer?

Fagan: We’re looking at how laser light interacts with rubidium atoms, and how that interaction is influenced by a magnetic field. One notable thing about what we are doing is that we are examining frequency noise in the laser, which is normally viewed as undesirable, and using it to increase the accuracy of our measurements. This research will be useful in the future for making more efficient manometers that can be used for medical imaging.

physics research team How do you think student-faculty collaboration has impacted your education?

Green: Assisting Shannon with her research has really motivated my studies. While I learn a lot in the classroom, it doesn’t compare to engaging with the concepts in a lab.

Fagan: Working with Shannon has been great. She gives us plenty of opportunity to figure things out ourselves and get a taste of what research really is; she is always available if we get stuck or have questions.

How did you decide to attend Lewis & Clark?

Fagan: I decided to go to Lewis & Clark because of what I’d heard about the faculty. Every professor I’ve had has been approachable and helpful, which has inspired me to work hard and learn as much as I can. The school is in a great location, there are endless places to go, but there are also a lot of parks and nature areas not too far away that are wonderful to explore. I’m on the cross country and track teams and our coach is very supportive and was a factor in me coming here. In general, the student body is full of interesting people, and getting to know many of them has made an impact on how I live my life.


About the program

The John S. Rogers Science Research Program allows students to participate in graduate-level research with an emphasis on strengthening their communication skills by requiring them to present their findings. This summer, 40 students are pursuing topics that range from cybersecurity to spider venom, and zebrafish to magnetic fields. Working closely with peers and faculty members, students undertake research questions and present their work in two public venues.

“We’re not asking you anymore, ‘What’s the answer,’ we’re saying ‘What’s the question,” said Michael Broide, director of the Rogers Program and chair of the physics department. “I think what sets our program apart is that regardless of what project you are on, we’re all going to come together as a group to present what we’re doing in as accessible a way as possible. In science, it’s such an important skill to be able to explain cogently what you’re doing.”

Students make their final research presentation at the Rogers Summer Science Poster session, held in conjunction with the Science Without Limits Symposium. Scheduled for September 18, the poster session is free and open to the public.


Zibby Pillote ’14 contributed to this story.


Opportunities in Science at Lewis & Clark


Read more about current research projects: