Photonics and the Future Ahead of Me

This summer, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work under Justin Norman and Dr. John Bowers in the ECE department here at UCSB. My project was analyzing and characterizing quantum dot lasers epitaxially grown on silicon. These lasers are a high-performance, more economic-friendly alternative to lasers grown on a III-V substrate. This hands-on research experience has been so much more than I could have dreamed of. It developed my ability to quickly absorb information and figure out what’s important for me to know. It also taught me how easy it is to get overwhelmed with the amount of information you bite off about a subject. At the beginning, I tried to consume everything that was thrown my way and very quickly got bogged down in specifics that I didn’t necessarily need to know to understand what I was doing nor function in the lab. Photonics has the capability of being an endless source of questions, which is a double edged sword: it’s the reason I’m so fascinated by the field, but also why the field seems so daunting.

My plans for this upcoming year are ambitious, to say the least, but I’m the type of person that prefers being overwhelmed and running around to being underwhelmed and bored. I plan to run for a second term as Executive Vice President of my sorority, I will be beginning my upper-division coursework for my physics major and wrapping up my Mathematical Sciences major, and I hope to continue working on my research under Dr. Bowers and learn even more than I already have this summer. I’ve started to fall in love with the field of photonics, so I want to get as involved in the field as I can, whether that be in the lab setting, attending research talks, or reading journal articles.

The AIM Experience

I remember the first day of the internship: as I walked into Professor John Bower’s lab for the laser safety training, I wondered when I’d get to run all of the advanced machinery and lasers I had heard about.

It began with reading journals, books, and scientific papers for about a week or two. Coming in around 10 AM, reading till 4 PM, and then heading home each day. As I began reading the papers, I realized how complex the level of the material was compared to what we learned in classroom lectures and acknowledged the fact that I needed to be able to understand the equipment I would be spending the summer working with. MMI’s… Couplers… PDK’s… These words were all foreign to me. Though the reading seemed long and tedious, it helped build an understanding of how to read and interpret such a different style of writing.

Once I finally got into the lab, I learned about some of the various different applications of light and optics in a lab setting. From developing and implementing an algorithm in order to control automated test setup to determining measurements in epitaxially grown quantum dot lasers, I gained knowledge and hands on experience that I would never have been able to receive from only a classroom lecture environment.

Now nearing the end of my AIM Photonics summer internship experience, I can say with a 100% guarantee that I was able to establish successful results in a professional laboratory setting by interacting and working proficiently with my colleagues and mentor. The weekly activities organized through the program really emphasized the key aspects of what goes into research outside of the traditional laboratory setting. Gaining so much advice about graduate school from older students and making connections with various professors and mentors were just the beginning of the kind of valuable information I obtained from this program. I would definitely recommend this program to all physics and engineering undergraduate students regardless of their career and academic paths. One thing I would definitely not give up on is being deeply involved in the future of photonics by developing new techniques and set-ups using optical fibers.

It was truly an amazing and unique experience to feel that I was contributing to such an important field, and I value the chance I was given to be a part of something bigger. This opportunity has opened a doorway for me to the research life, and all I can say is give it your all because whether or not you find a career in research, the experience will broaden your mind and uncover a whole new spectrum of engineering that you may never even have thought existed.

After AIM

With the program quickly approaching its end, there seems to be lots of loose ends to tie up. Between finishing projects, creating posters and slides for presentations, and preparing various other media to show that we have been learning this summer, the interns at AIM have been very busy lately. Yet as much as everyone seems to be feeling an increasing weight on his or her shoulders, everyone seems to be having more fun after having adjusted to the program. What used to be awkward silence in the moments leading up to presentations has turned into lively conversation and laughter between friends.

Personally, this has been a very fun and rewarding summer for me. One of the oddest things about summer in Isla Vista to me is the fact that many of my friends are home, so I become closer friends with people I would have called acquaintances before. There are even interns within AIM that I have seen around and held small talk with, but are now people I hang out with outside of our work.

I am very grateful for having been given this opportunity to learn about photonics and meet some very good people, but also to learn about research in general. AIM has cemented my decision to continue with research in the future, yet the topic is something I am still unclear of. Ideally, I would like to research something novel rather than an improvement over another technology, but I still have too many broad interests to narrow it down to one subject. With the experience I have received through working with my mentor and through the CSEP program, I feel that I am prepared to tackle the challenges that will be thrown at me during my career.

AIMing High

Earlier this year, I was looking for research opportunities in the engineering field. After multiple hours of mindlessly searching the internet, I finally came across the “AIM Photonics Undergraduate Research Internship” page and very quickly became interested. I thought it was a brilliant program that recruited undergraduate students to work in the labs with graduate students while gaining research experience. I pulled up the application and realized that it was due that day! I knew I couldn’t let this opportunity go so I quickly started writing my personal statement and sent two of my most influential professors an email requesting a letter of recommendation. I submitted my application at 11:45PM that night. I think th2at the time spent on this application was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made

So far, my research has consisted of reviewing material from modern and optical physics and practicing optical fiber alignment with tunable lasers as well as measuring resistance of photonic chips. I have collected the data and created an IV Graph as well as a spreadsheet with the resistance measurements. I am going to present my results this week to my mentor and faculty advisor. This will be a great chance for me to practice my oral communication skills for my future career as an engineer when I am expected to tell people about my research.

In the second half of my research experience, I hope to learn more lab techniques as well as the work that is going into the field of photonics. My mentor shared with me that this field is still somewhat in the beginning stages and that once enough research is done, it will change the way the world communicates for the better. It will be much faster and way more energy efficient than the current state of communication and let’s be honest, who doesn’t want that?


My Summer at UCSB

I’ve always had a fascination with technology, mostly driven by my video game consoles and the old family computer. I read up on how all my machines worked, sometimes tempted to take them apart (fortunately, my fear of not being able to put them back together kept me at bay). Having gone to a high school specializing in science and engineering, I was able to hone in on which disciplines I found the most interesting, specifically devices and nanofabrication, thanks to a nanotechnology course I took my junior year. That was inspiration enough for me to find research quickly upon reaching university. When I came across the opportunity to explore an entirely new coast and meet students from all over the country, I jumped on it (Thanks, internet)!

The nearly six-hour flight to California was the longest I’d ever taken, made all the more disorienting by the three-hour time difference between Santa Barbara and Miami. The first thing I noticed was how little I had prepared for the cool weather (Honestly, I was more concerned about earthquakes and forest fires). Under the impression that Santa Barbara was farther south, and that it must be just as warm as home, I’d packed more shorts than anything else. So after finding a sweatshirt, I had to deal with my next challenge—actual research. Specifically, working within the ECE department through the AIM Photonics program.

I’ve gotten the rare opportunity to familiarize myself with various tools and machines in UCSB’s nanofabrication facility, better known as the cleanroom. Yanking on a bunny suit for the first time was daunting—and a bit harder than the employees made it look. Walking in, hearing nothing but the low hum of machines and seeing white-clad researchers move quickly and quietly carrying wafers of silicon made me uneasy. As intimidating as the machinery looked be in size, with intricate arrays of switches, monitors, and dials, they seemed delicate enough to break with a single touch. And in some ways, they are. Using the equipment in the cleanroom efficiently requires a solid foundation in device physics as well as chemistry. Having only completed my first year in university, most of what I know about the phenomena that allow for nanoscale fabrication comes from high school and self-study. It’s been four weeks since I’ve begun, and already I’ve assigned myself reading—finding whatever articles and textbooks I can to understand why each step in a process must be followed to the tiniest detail. Doing my own homework has really helped make up for the skill gap and has allowed me to make educated decisions in processing (with help). And though training is mandatory in the cleanroom, I am glad to have skilled mentors who can explain the mechanics of each processing step with more clarity than high-level texts. Their advice and support is much appreciated, and this sneak-peek into the lives of graduate students is already helping to shape my future goals in research and academia.