Action, Camera, Light!
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|Left to right: Dev Ashish Khaitan, Josh Geller (author), Dr. Tom Olsen (SPS Assistant Director), Wendi Chang, and Corey Adams pose at FiO/LS.
Sitting in the Lilac ballroom of the Rochester Convention Center at 8am Monday morning and looking up at the stage where the conference opening remarks were about to begin, the large display screens and lighting controlled by the tech coordinators to my left were reminiscent of spectacles slightly more opulent than a scientific symposium. By the preciseness of the technical cues I was hearing to my left, I was reminded of a movie premiere. I have a soft spot for awful puns, so I chuckled to myself as I thought “action, camera, light!” when the OSA/APS Division of Laser Science Frontiers in Optics, Laser Science Symposium (FiO/LS) 2010 kicked off.
Before recounting my experiences at FiO/LS 2010 held this year in Rochester, New York, I should tell you a bit about whose perspective you are getting. As a senior physics and mathematics major at the University of Rochester I’ve just begun to comprehend how little I know about physics and mathematics. But, I am lucky to have had some opportunities to explore research into such quantum optics topics as entanglement and single photon sources through summer work and lab classes at the U of R. So I am particularly excited to report on FiO/LS 2010 for several reasons. Foremost, the research I’ve pursued thus far was in focus at this meeting. And, without doubt like the other students also in attendance, I was excited to interact with the many leading scientists and presenters
Before all that, though, let’s jump back three years, and start when I was a freshman
Second semester freshman year, in a course titled Modern Physics, whose purpose was to introduce us students to some of the basic principles of quantum mechanics and the experimental results of the early 1900s that necessitated rethinking classical physics, a lecture discussed the violation of Bell inequalities. By detecting the polarizations of pairs of photons passing through a series of linear polarizers, one can show the out-coming pair’s polarizations violate the rules for any classical explanation of photon polarization relationships, as set forth by John Bell. Taught by Professor Joseph H. Eberly, winner of this year’s Frederic Ives Medal, that special lecture in Modern Physics introduced me to entanglement. I was hooked.
Much remains to be understood about entanglement, as Professor Eberly pointed out in his Ives Medal speech titled “When Malus tangles with Euclid, Who Wins?” During the conference-opening award and plenary session, he noted that a startling 75 years have passed since Erwin Schrödinger first asked questions about entanglement; yet today, many of Schrödinger’s questions still lack quantitative answers. Back in the present, that comment gave me an idea for the theme of this article: I should try to detail FiO/LS 2010 as quantitatively as I can.
I start at six in the morning, too early a time for a college senior to wake up, and a time when in Rochester in October it is still dark. I woke up to the hurried phone call of my friend Dev, who was to drive the four of us SPS members attending the conference – Wendi, Corey and me (running late) – to the morning’s award ceremony. First to be picked up, I was barely ready at such an unusually early time, but was particularly excited for two of the day’s events: 1. the award and plenary session; 2. the student symposium on undergraduate research.
After about thirty minutes of introductions – I counted – the formality yielded the floor to Professor Eberly, whose Frederic Ives Medal / Jarus W. Quinn Endowment presentation referenced the very material from my freshman class that had drawn me to quantum optics and entanglement, and had pushed me toward attending this meeting. He offered a concise reminder of the interesting questions still open in quantum mechanics, by thinking about the curious behavior of two photons’ polarizations under correlated measurements.
The Schawlow Prize lecture followed, discussing coherent x-rays generated by ultrafast tabletop-lasers. Henry Kapteyn, one of the Prize recipients, gave the talk. Both Professor Kapteyn and recipient Margaret Murnane are from JILA (the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics) at the University of Colorado. The second half of the opening session included a lecture from Steven Block, a biophysicist from Stanford University, who prefaced his speech by telling the audience that we were in for “a Bio lesson for physicists.” In his charismatic portrayal of his work on the use of a laser based optical trap for studying gene-regulation, he mentioned his study of basewise stepping, claiming that some of his lab’s work in this direction was more or less an “in your face experiment” his lab did on a weekend just because the optical trap allowed for it. Funny guy! The closing talk of the morning session, given by Alain Aspect, of the Laboratoire Charles Fabry de l’Institute d’Optique in France, was a bit of excitement I’d been looking forward to. His talk demonstrated the Hanbury Brown and Twiss setup using atoms rather than photons.
Immediately following the opening session, the four of us undergraduates met with Dr. Tom Olsen, Assistant Director of the SPS and Sigma Pi Sigma, who had helped to procure our passes to the conference. Back from lunch with him at Dinosaur Barbeque, a Rochester favorite two blocks away from the conference center, we attended the student poster session where I was amazed to see Alain Aspect asking questions of each presenter. Winding through the student poster session area, we found our way into a symposium on the biomedical applications of lasers. This was one of four special symposia held by the Industrial Physics Forum (IPF), organized by AIP and OSA, devoted to novel physics in industry. Had we stayed to see the evening IPF speakers, we would have seen the topic change to applications of lasers in environmental science. Fortunately, AIP has archived video recordings of these talks at www.aip.org/industry/ipf/2010/presentations.html. The abstracts may be found at:
I was particularly looking forward to an IPF talk on Tuesday by Professor Christopher Monroe from the University of Maryland, who would discuss methods of generating “large-scale” entanglement.
But our time to skip class for this meeting had passed for now, and we were to head back to school to finish the day with plans to attend the OSA student members’ social event that evening. Amazed to find Steven Block stopping by to meet students, I was lucky to speak with him briefly at the reception hosted by the OSA at a local tavern in downtown Rochester. I asked Professor Block about how he ended up pursuing biophysics, and if he liked biology or physics more. He quipped that though he did enjoy biology, physics was admittedly the “mother science.” Day one was finally over at around 10pm on Monday.
The second day brought a trip, again at 8am, to presentation sessions. Focused again on quantum optics, I attended the Quantum Information and Communications morning session, wherein I heard about quantum discord, spectral entanglement via spontaneous parametric down conversion (SPDC), the effect on entanglement dynamics of a bipartite system when adding dimensions to the system, the use of holography to measure entanglement in phase singularity lines in SPDC light, and entanglement in longitudinal and scalar photons that result from quantization of the electromagnetic field. That session ended at 10am, and I ran over to the IPF, catching the end of laser applications in metrology. In the final “Special Symposium,” Frontiers In Physics, we heard about the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, Monroe’s talk on the hardware used to produce entangled states (raising my entanglement talk tally to eight), and the detectors at CERN.
Just before 4pm, the four of us from U of R’s SPS chapter returned to explore the Exhibit Hall. It was there that the preponderance of opportunities for scientists doing optical physics outside of academia really hit home (complementing what I learned at the IPF session presentations). The 79 booths and demonstrations in the Exhibit – I counted again – from industry leaders like Thorlabs, Lumetrics, PHASICS, Newport Corporation, Optimax Systems, etc. gave us plenty to explore until the IPF speaker’s reception. And finally, at the close of that day’s exhibit, and after grabbing some flashing LaserFest pins from the LaserFest booth, we headed to the IPF speaker’s reception. This unique opportunity let us mingle with a reporter from Physics Today Magazine, a researcher from GM, a scientist from NIST who described his work on keeping time, and a professor from the University of Central Florida, Boris Zeldovich, who gave us a private demonstration of his cleverly designed woodshop-like apparatuses which, in a straightforward and physical way, analogize many optical phenomena. For example, he showed us a bifrequency pendulum used to illustrate optical birefringence and the rotary Doppler effect, as well as to demonstrate how an LCD works. He would later send us an extensive presentation of his work.
The end of this reception would be the end of the conference for us undergraduate students attending from the University of Rochester SPS chapter; one can only skip so much class… But, for my time at this meeting, I had an extraordinary opportunity to see what avenues of research lay ahead if I stick with studying entanglement, or if I pursue anything else optics has to offer.
When you join SPS national as an undergraduate, you get free one-year membership in one of ten other physics societies, including the Optical Society of American (OSA). OSA promotes the generation, application and archiving of knowledge in optics and photonics.
SPS national sends student reporters to most major AIP Member Society meetings, where they are treated like other members of the press. Many ambitious student reporters succeed in securing interviews with society leadership and prominent invited speakers on such occasions.
A limited number of grants, on the order of $200 each, are offered to help fund SPS members' travel to national meetings of AIP Member Societies holding a "SPS Session" co-organized by SPS and the Member Society.