2008 Summer High School Research ProgramSeptember, 2008
This summer, 15 Rochester-area high school students participated in the Laboratory for Laser Energetics Summer High School Research Program. Since 1989, this program has challenged 233 talented and dedicated high school students interested in science, mathematics, and technology to explore research topics and careers under the tutelage of LLE scientists, engineers, and staff in a state-of-the art environment. These research projects draw on the theoretical and laboratory expertise of many disciplines at LLE, including physics, optics, chemistry, spectroscopy, diagnostic development, controls engineering, software development, and materials science.
Students attended weekly seminars on technical topics dovetailing with LLE’s research. Topics this year included lasers, fusion, holography, optics manufacturing, fiber optics, physics and the sound of music, and electronic paper. The program closed with the High School Student Summer Research Symposium on 27 August, during which the students presented the results of their research to parents, teachers, and LLE staff. The students also prepare written reports on their specific research projects, which are extensively critiqued by their LLE advisors as well as by LLE Senior Scientist Dr. R. Stephen Craxton, the High School Program Director. After the students revise their writing during the school year, their reports will be permanently bound, placed on the LLE Web site, and available for citation in scientific journals.
2008 Summer High School Research Program participants with program director,
Dr. R. Stephen Craxton
At the research symposium, Dr. Craxton presents an award to an exceptional High School teacher nominated by a current or past participant of the LLE Summer High School Research Program. This year, the 2008 William D. Ryan Inspirational Teacher Award was presented to Jane M. Bowdler of Brockport High School. This award honors teachers who have inspired students in the areas of science, mathematics, and technology. Honorees receive a $1000 cash award in addition to an engraved crystal. Ms. Bowdler was nominated by Priyamvada Rajasethupathy, a participant of the 2000 summer program and currently a medical student at Columbia University.
Dr. Craxton, who serves as only the second director of this program now in its 20th year, selects high school students whose interests and abilities complement those of the participating LLE advisors. It is his responsibility to ensure that these students receive an eye-opening, intensive entry into the frontiers of science in the hands of outstanding scientists capable of inspiring their interest throughout the eight-week paid program. These productive research relationships frequently result in students returning to LLE in subsequent summers to continue their research. Further, at least one of this year’s high school students indicated that based on his experience at LLE, he is now interested in applying to the University of Rochester as an undergraduate, whereas before this summer, he had not considered the University for his undergraduate work.
The robust range of research projects reflects the experimental character that pervades the LLE facility. For example, Mangala Patil of Pittsford Mendon High School immersed herself in an entirely lab-based project this summer, one moving beyond the more prescriptive procedures and predictable results typically found in classroom laboratories. The project, entitled “Contamination-Resistant Sol-Gel AR Coatings by Vapor-Phase Silylation,” involved taking daily measurements using various instruments such as a spectrophotometer and working with volatile chemicals and fragile equipment. Patil found the most valuable contribution of this program in its research principles. “The specifics of my project are insignificant when compared to the lessons I learned in problem solving. Throughout the span of my project I encountered numerous complications that stood in the way of realizing my hypothesis.” Rather than feeling defeated by those complications, the uncertainties of her scientific research have spiked her curiosity. “True research,” remarked Patil, “is not always about what goes right, but what your mistakes can ultimately teach you.”
Under the tutelage of his advisor Roger Janezic, LLE Research Engineer, Husain Bawany of Brighton High School focused on the inertial confinement fusion research at LLE, which includes the production and implosion of cryogenic targets filled with deuterium and/or tritium. Prior to this project, the databases containing relevant data were dispersed, requiring significant amounts of time to search for simple data. Bawany’s project involved the creation of a new Web-based, comprehensive database query that serves as the starting point of an information search. The query allows a user, for the first time, to search for information online based on a variety of target characteristics, such as ice thickness or target outcome. To complement this database, Bawany also created a Layer Analysis Table (an exhaustive target quality database) to focus solely on the layering cycle of cryogenic targets. These new online database features are very valuable to LLE’s future work because researchers will now be able to easily correlate the characteristics of cryogenic targets with their shot results. This effort significantly improves data management and eases the analysis of cryogenic data.
Rachel Kurchin of The Harley School found herself in the unique position of being able to experimentally confirm her theoretical calculations in her LLE project entitled “Characterization of a Cryogenic Target in a Hohlraum.” Under the supervision of Dr. Craxton, Kurchin’s project initially focused on adapting a computer code written by previous high school interns to characterize ice layers within cryogenic targets by tracing rays from an optical probe beam through them. This technique, called shadowgraphy, allows the layer quality to be determined by evaluating the shadows created in the image of the target by the probe rays passing through the target. Kurchin added the ability to trace the rays through an external cylindrical case called a hohlraum.
A hohlraum is used in x-ray-drive laser fusion to convert incident laser energy into x rays. Unfortunately, the hohlraum prevents the inner ice layer of the enclosed target from being characterized using existing computer programs because it acts as a cylinddrical lens and distorts the image. Kurchin wrote new routines to predict the characteristics of these distortions and found a complex pattern that had not been expected. Next, she went into the microfabrication lab, advised by Mark Wittman, LLE Research Engineer, to test her predictions using a precise three-axis measuring microscope. Images of the enclosed target, analyzed using LLE Scientist Dana Edgell’s VIEWCRYO program, confirmed Rachel’s predictions. “Normally,” explained Kurchin, “the hohlraum is made of gold, but since we were using shadowgraphy, it needed to be transparent to visible light, so we used a glass hohlraum. Also, because I couldn’t use cryogenic equipment, we used a plastic surrogate target—it’s assumed that if my predictions are correct for the case of the plastic surrogate, they will also be for the cryogenic case.” So far, Kurchin’s predictions have proven to be very accurate and provide a strong base from which scientists can proceed to evaluate the uniformity of cryogenic targets within laser hohlraums.
As the Summer High School Program enters its third decade of operation, its continued success is due to a combination of the continuous stream of bright and inquisitive students from the Rochester community and the large amount of individual attention that the students receive from LLE advisors and staff. Whether these exceptional students spent their summer at LLE working in the lab like Mangala Patil, working with computer codes, like Angela Ryck of Fairport High School who modeled cone-in-shell implosions and Brian Wang of Webster Thomas High School, who modeled space-charge effects in streak cameras, or combining theory and experimentation like Rachel Kurchin, their remarkable experiences have been built upon and, at the same time, strengthen the unique educational capabilities available at LLE.