While the other rotations of WSE187 Introduction to Research force a particular project on its members, Dr. Noé showed us many optics demonstrations and let us formulate our own research. This definitely provides a true introduction to research, as the hardest part can be figuring out exactly what you want to study and how to get the materials to do so.
I was first considering doing research with matrices, since I once read that the whole universe is based on a certain sized matrix, and if it were another size, critical physical constants would be a lot different and life might not exist. I found out that this type of math has innumerable applications in optics, but we couldn't decide on an original research project based solely on this idea.
Optical fibers sparked my interest, so I started reading about them online. Scintillating fibers were mentioned by Paul Grannis in a talk he gave in my PHY104 class. The optical fibers used in an accelerator are coated in a scintillating material that produces light when hit with a specific particle produced in nuclei collisions. The light is transmitted down the fiber and is recorded. Surrounding the collision zone with optical fibers allows a very accurate map of the path of the particles to be created. This applies directly to my interest in particle physics.
Dr. Noé had me focus a laser into a multimode optical fiber by adjusting two mirrors. One controlled the angle at which the light entered a lens, the other the horizontal and vertical position of the beam. I had to scan using four adjustment knobs to find the spot where the light exiting the fiber was most intense, then push the fiber in a tiny bit more and repeat. It was strangely exciting when the light transmitted through the fiber would suddenly intensify. Once the mirrors' positions were optimized, I studied the complex output pattern of the multimode fiber. It changes much like a kaleidoscope if a mirror or the fiber itself is moved. When the fiber is bent some if the light leaks out at regular intervals that correspond to the modes. The greater the angle of curvature, the more light escapes and the less intense the light exiting the fiber. Next, I replaced the multimode fiber with a single mode one and began tuning the mirrors. The single mode fiber transmits only a dot of light.
While scientists were discovering another planet in our own solar system, Dr. Noé was discovering a paper on his desk proposing a novel interferometric way to locate extrasolar planets. Finally we had found a project I could do that merged astrophysics and optics. Grover Swartzlander Jr. suggested astronomers could "peer into darkness" by using an optical vortex to null the light from a star so the nearby dimmer planets could be observed. We contacted him and he promptly replied, suggesting that we study the pattern and intensity of coherent light transmitted through a computer-generated hologram. We plan to evaluate the potential applications of the optical vortex in detecting extrasolar planets. The abstract for this project, to be included in Stony Brook's Celebration of Undergraduate Creativity and Research, may be found here.