Jeff Nicholls (1T3) at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron in Germany


“This summer I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in the amazing research taking place at DESY (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron) in Hamburg, Germany. My research revolved around the operation of a small electron accelerator named REGAE (Relativistic Electron Gun for Atomic Exploration) which will soon be used to conduct time resolved diffraction imaging, or as we like to call it, “Making the Molecular Movie”. Essentially, the accelerator has the capability to image both chemical and biological transitions as they take place, something which has never truly been done before due to the speed at which these transitions occur: approximately 100 femtoseconds or 100 millionths of a billionth of a second.

The machine is still in the early stages of its life, therefore I devoted almost all of my time to operating and optimizing the machine such as performing beam diagnostics, producing diffraction images, and investigating ways to improve the quality of operation. Only soon after I arrived in Hamburg did we achieve our first electron diffraction images using Gold and Silicon samples; this was a huge milestone. At the time of writing this we are currently working to improve the quality of those images. Soon we should be able to begin performing pump-probe experiments, where a laser is used to excite a sample (such as Silicon, or eventually actual proteins), and an electron beam is used to probe and image the sample during any transition that may occur.

This opportunity has been perfect for me as it has really gotten me interested in the field of accelerator physics: a wide and diverse field which has applications ranging from medicine to industry to experimental physics. I am now certain that I will pursue a graduate degree in this field after Engineering Science. Not only that, but this experience has opened me up to the true beauty of scientific collaboration. I have met so many outstanding people, and work daily with a large variety of outstanding scientists including Physicists, Chemists, Biologists and of course, Engineers. The working environment here at DESY is extraordinary, and something which is probably very hard to find anywhere else. Along with this I have developed connections which will undoubtedly be of great benefit to me in the future. I have even considered coming back to DESY in a couple years to do my PhD!

I cannot express how grateful I am for receiving this fellowship, and for being part of the Engineering Science community in general. One of the greatest aspects of Engineering Science which I enjoy the most is the extreme diversity of different fields which students study and participate in. Despite focusing my efforts in physics and related topics, I know that one day, due to the connections I have made throughout Engineering Science, I will personally know professionals working across the globe in distinct and extremely interesting fields. From my experience collaborating with a large volume of people this summer, this aspect I know will be invaluable. The opportunity Engineering Science has given me this summer has been truly indespensible for my professional development, and I would hope they continue this for future generations of EngSci students.”