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Small Scale: Physics lab enables nanotechnology research

By monét cooper

When Willie Rockward, assistant professor of physics, arrived at Morehouse in 1998, one of his first missions was to create a new physics lab.

He and Valerie Bennett, then an assistant professor of physics who is now a teacher at the Westminster School in Buckhead, began writing grant proposals and solicited students to help clean the Dansby Hall room that would become the Micro Optics Research and Engineering Lab (MORE Lab). By fall 2000, as the lab received equipment grants, computers and a five-ton optical table for eliminating movement disturbances (a baby crane was used to place it in the room), the lab began to take shape. Five years later, the research coming out of the MORE Lab is a testament to years of hard work.

“I see clearly now that a lot of the students enjoy the research environment and they get a chance to see what research is all about,” said Rockward. “They notice that it’s not something that’s in a cookbook. Research is actually making the instruction after you find out what works. They’re using the methods of the scientific process.”

The research focuses on combining the uses of light and a relatively new field of study: nanotechnology.

A micron is a millionth of a meter and a nanometer is a billionth of a meter. The diameter of a single human hair is about 50 microns—the lab can get to a fifth of that in some cases. By studying the different ways light is refracted and contained, information can be shrunk to the size of a pinpoint.

“We want to be able to control the light and photonic crystals [contained in butterfly wings] are so small—smaller than a human hair—and the trend now is making everything smaller and compact,” explained Threat, whose experiment probing the optical properties in butterfly wings earned him and his team (which included Rockward) 1st place at the Mapp Symposium. “Let’s look at nature, see how [nature] did it and try to remake it.”

Thomas Searles ’06, a physics and math major, said the work he’s accomplished in the lab will put him in the running with students from research-based institutions.

“It puts you far ahead because it gives you hands-on experience with theory discussed in class,” said Searles. “There’s no doubt that my experiments in the lab will allow me to get accepted to graduate school next year.”

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