NSF grant funds UAH optics major’s research on ultrafast nanophotonics

Thanks to a supplemental grant from the NSF, UAH senior optical engineering major Dane Rich was able to spend the summer conducting research on ultrafast nanophotonics under the supervision of Dr. Lingze Duan.

When Dr. Lingze Duan, associate professor in the Department of Physics at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), received a five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF), he knew he had a unique platform to integrate cutting-edge research with undergraduate education. Among the various opportunities enabled by the grant, he found one avenue to be especially beneficial.

“The NSF allows current grant awardees to submit supplement proposals to involve undergraduates in the main project,” says Dr. Duan, who also leads the Precision Ultrafast Light Sciences group at UAH. “If a supplement proposal is accepted, they will provide additional funding to help support the student’s work.”

After a couple of years of preparation, his effort ultimately proved successful. This past summer, he was able to hire senior optical engineering major Dane Rich with a $7,898 supplement grant from NSF. The decision was a no-brainer. “Besides maintaining an excellent academic standing, including a 3.95 GPA, Dane has demonstrated a keen interest in optics research and has been an active participant in the activities of the Society of Optics Students, a student-run organization founded as part of this project,” says Dr. Duan.

For his part, Rich welcomed the opportunity to join professional forces with Dr. Duan, whom he describes as “a fantastic teacher” and an inspiration. He also appreciated Dr. Duan’s hands-off approach throughout the summer. “The great thing is that he gave me the premise for what I’d be doing and then just said, ‘Get it done.’ He didn’t look over my shoulder,” he says. “As a result, he’s given me an enormous amount of confidence in myself and my ability to assess a situation. Going forward, if someone gives another project, I know I can accomplish it.”

Rich’s focus was on the development of conductive composite matrix materials compatible with the fabrication of II-VI colloidal quantum dot-thin films to facilitate the structural design and fabrication of quantum dot electronic carrier-envelope phase sensors. “These sensors,” he says, “could open the door to a new and exciting way of measuring and utilizing light.”

While the funding provided by the award has now ended with the start of the fall semester, Rich will be staying on in hopes of completing his research. His motivation, he explains, is twofold. The first is academic, as he sees the potential for this field of study to influence and inform his master’s thesis as he works toward his graduate degree in optics through UAH’s Joint Undergraduate Master’s Program. But the second is more personal. “I feel somewhat connected to this project – I want to see it to its end, and I don’t want to hand it off to someone,” he says. “Dr. Duan has put his confidence in me to achieve it, and I would like to see that confidence fully realized by successfully completing my work and documenting it in a manuscript.”

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