Graphene, discovered in 2004, consists of a one-atom thick layer of carbon. Because of its unique electrical properties, it may be useful in developing ultrafast supercomputers. It is believed that graphene-based transistors—the on/off switches used in electronic devices, switching from on to off, from 0 to 1—could operate much faster than existing silicon transistors.
Working with physics professor James Heyman, I learned about its conductivity by doing electrical measurements on graphene samples. We used a technique called Terahertz Time-Domain Spectroscopy, science jargon for “we shoot very short, very intense laser pulses at things and see what happens.” Using a complicated arrangement of mirrors, lenses, beam splitters, and other optical components, we direct the beam from a high-powered laser along different paths and through the sample, then analyze the results.
The first week was a little overwhelming. I had a great physics background from the classes I’ve taken here, but lab work requires detailed application of that knowledge. I couldn’t believe I was getting paid to learn about physics as a summer job!
Once I was up to speed, I was assigned to carry out a specific spectroscopy measurement on graphene samples, working in collaboration with a chemistry research group at the University of Minnesota. Throughout the summer, I was back and forth between Mac and the U on most work days—a beautiful 30-minute bike ride along the Mississippi River! I worked on my own at the U, almost always the only undergraduate in the lab. Experiencing both research environments—small liberal arts college vs. research group at a big university—and the collaboration between the two was an awesome experience and gave me insight into possible future paths in physics.
January 24, 2013Back to top