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Laser sheds new light on molecules at Miami

Miami University students are mapping out molecular properties with the help of new ultrafast laser technology to better understand energy transfer for processes in collisions between atoms and molecules.

Purple and green laser beams crisscross Briana Vamosi’s experiment. The undergraduate student is working with iodine. She is slowing down the energy transfer process to get a closer look.“And now I’ve added a second laser and which has taken it even further and so when it’s decaying it’s giving off a different florescence and we are looking at what’s called the two photon florescent.”

Don’t worry if you’re confused. It is complicated. Assistant Physics professor Burcin Bayram explains why students are using pulse lasers, which are lasers to the nanosecond, and picosecond lasers, a trillionth of a second resolution.

She says, “Atoms and molecules collide in a very fast timeframe. They are so fast that in order to get some information about what goes on in the excited state, we have to be in that time scale which is pico or can be nano. That’s where the pulse lasers are playing an important role.”

A grant from the National Science Foundation helps support Bayram’s “Polarization Quantum Beat Spectroscopy in Diatomic Molecules."  What she discovers could help biology, medicine, engineering and quantum physics.

Graduate student Tim Horton has been working with lasers for 5 ½ years. Right now he’s doing an experiment with sodium, using a continuous wave length laser to excite the sodium molecules to the first state.“The idea is to use a nanosecond laser to raise the sodium up to the second excited state and use a picosecond laser to drop it to its ground state again.”

The hands-on approach in Bayram’s lab is common in the physics department at Miami. Physics chair Herbert Jaeger has introduced what’s called SCALE-UP teaching approach. He points out a room with 11 tables, nine seats each and groups of three working at computers. The idea is to solve problems rather than have somebody read to you while you take notes.

According to Jaeger, “It is now active and not just copying down what the professor wrote on the board, also important to communicate with other students and hear what they did.”

The hip factor of lasers is weighing heavily. Undergraduate Jacob McFarland brings it up. “Well, they look really cool and I’ve never learned about, I guess, you never really learn about lasers in high school. It’s really hard to get into it if you just want to look it up on the Internet, you know Wikipedia, the terminology is very different.”

Patrick Boyle wants to tell about his major, but people really don’t want to hear about it. They’re usually curious as to what I’m doing and I tell them lasers are cool and that’s all there is to it really. They don’t’ want to hear anymore.”

International students Salhuddin and Maha Aljohani say they are learning and excited.