Not All Research Takes Place in a Laboratory
How do you simulate a laser? That was my first question, followed by many more, for my mentor starting at the beginning on the summer. Transitioning from a week of final exams to working in a new lab the next week is just about as hectic as it sounds, but also exciting.
As for simulating a laser, from my experience so far, it is done by reading multiple books on the subject and hoping that my lack of programming experience doesn’t hinder me too much. My project is based on narrowing the linewidth of an silicon-based laser, which is essentially making its frequency more precise. Since lasing is a process that takes place with a seemingly uncountable number of atoms, the frequency of the photon released from each atom is very slightly off from that from a different atom. Because of this, when we talk about the frequency of a laser, we are talking about the peak in a distribution of frequencies, not the frequency of every photon emitted by a laser. A smaller linewidth means that the distribution gets narrower, and more photons have a frequency closer to that of the peak.
Now that seems pretty interesting, but where are the applications? Well, there are plenty actually. By making a laser more precise, you can distinguish two lasers with closer frequencies. Since there will be less overlap which will contribute to detection errors and noise, devices will be able to pack more frequencies into the medium they use to transfer information. This is very important for communication, and I will give a quick example of why using a frequency we don’t work with in our research but is still representative of the importance of a narrow linewidth. KCSB FM, the radio station at UCSB, is broadcasted at 91.9 MHz. Like any other radio station, its frequency goes to only one decimal place. However, with a narrower linewidth on broadcasting and receiving instruments, channels will be able to further than that, having two or three decimal places with minimal overlap. This will open up many more channels, allowing more information to be accessible to anyone at a given time. A similar process can be used in optical fibers, except within a different range of frequencies.
Learning how to code has been a challenge for me so far, but has been a majority of what I have been doing. In fact, I have not set foot inside of a laboratory this summer, but have spent many hours at a desk. Reading and problem-solving is something that isn’t foreign to me after a few years of studying physics at UCSB, however it is new to me for research. I was expecting hands-on projects, with the lab coat and all, but what I have been doing is rewarding in a way I have never considered. And in the coming weeks, I think the time I spent reading and learning how to code will help me contribute to the solution of the growing problem of data transfer. Even though I don’t get to work with any fancy machines I had to get trained specifically for, working outside the lab has let me see the bigger picture and contribute in ways I never thought I could.