This summer, I worked under the supervision of Professor Dwayne Miller as part of the Atomically Resolved Dynamics Division within the Max Planck Research Department for Structural Dynamics at the University of Hamburg. The goal of my research project was to image and analyze the profile of laser-generated plume on water using interferometry. By knowing how the plume moves after generation, tissue samples can be vaporized and then analyzed using a mass spectrometer to determine molecular composition. In this way, we can gain a deeper understanding of how biological functions work at an atomic level.
In order to begin my project, I was given the opportunity to first learn about the physics of laser pulse propagation as well as the mathematics of Gaussian beams. With these foundations, I set up a Mach-Zehnder interferometer in the lab and collected image data on interference fringes. After researching more about Fourier transform, frequency domain and phase unwrapping algorithms, I developed a MATLAB program to return the true phase of an image, given images of fringes from the lab setup. To profile the plume using the program, the phase difference between a background phase and the phase with the plume was calculated. During this process, I also experimented with various methods to optimize run-time. In order to test the code, I used a Nd:YAG laser to generate plasma on water while passing light from one arm of the interferometer through the plume. This allowed both the background phase and the phase with the plume to be captured. Through this project, I gained experience with MATLAB and MEX programming and experience working in a laser lab as I set up, adjusted and maintained the optical equipment. I also learned more about Q-switched lasers and plasma generation.
Working with Professor Miller’s group at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science (CFEL) had been a very exciting opportunity for me not only because of my project, but also because I had the privilege to interact with many talented scientists and engineers. They gave me valuable advice and I am happy to learn that some are upper years or graduates from engineering science. During Professor Miller’s weekly group meetings, undergraduate students as well as graduate students presented their current work and I saw the potential of engineering science after university. In addition to the group meetings, CFEL hosts weekly talks by professors from around the world and I was fortunate to be able to attend several of them. Learning about the cutting edge work in fields such as nanotechnology, analytical chemistry and magnetism was very interesting and I am inspired about what I can do in the future.
My personal horizon was also widened by this opportunity as this is my first time travelling to Europe. To take advantage of this chance, I enrolled in a course to learn German and had many short trips around Germany during weekends. Through these new and rewarding experiences, I learned a lot about more about the world.
Because of this research opportunity, I am more informed about what I want to do for the future and will continue to pursue my goal of attending graduate school. The knowledge, experiences and skills I gained will help me in this pursuit. I would like to thank the University of Hamburg and CFEL for hosting me in Germany as well as the Division of Engineering Science for their support that made this opportunity possible.