Otto Nicholson ’24

Stony Brook University, Department of Physics, Stony Brook, NY

This summer, I worked for the Metcalf Laboratory at Stony Brook University. Dr. Metcalf’s work primarily focuses on the stimulated absorption and emission of light coming from metastable helium. I mainly assisted a graduate student working in the lab, Edoardo Buonocore, whose main project was assembling a machine shop-made detector. My specific project, however, was to create the pulse that is needed for the study of the interaction between the light and the atoms.

The creation of these pulses was achieved by using an amplitude modulator and a phase modulator. My job was to make sure the amplitude modulator was producing the pulses with the characteristics that we needed. In order to make our pulse, we first started with a beam of 1083 nm laser. To make it so that there is only light when the pulse comes through the interaction zone, the amplitude modulator has a separate applied pulse to it. The beam gets split into two “arms,” and since light acts as waves, the waves can be recombined as complete destructive interference. Thus, with this applied pulse, we can then see a pulse go through. We were then able to check the characteristics of the pulse using a photodiode, which checked for the intensity of the light very rapidly, which we could then graph.

Although I already knew that physics was something that I found to be interesting, the ability to see it being applied to the real world was really fascinating. As a rising junior, I was planning to major in physics, but I never really knew what direction within the major I would take. Now that I understand the combination of problem solving along with applied physics, I know that I am on a career path to do scientific research. As a side product of this position was learning new lab skills. I knew a little bit about optical skills before the summer, however, spending ten weeks in a lab allowed me to hone in my previous existing skills while still uncovering necessary skills. One new skill set included understanding the difference between roughing pumps and turbo pumps and how they interact within a vacuum system. Another set of skills that I have gained revolved around the etiquette and procedures needed with optical fibers. I learned how to clean fibers, do optical polishing, use fiber amplifiers and diodes and much more.

I am so grateful to the Class of 1951 for this experience to apply what I learn in the classroom to the real world and to help mold an ideal career path. I am also thankful to have met so many new people and to have acquired new skills in a field that I love.