Thoughts on Theses: Celia Oh
Issue   |   Wed, 09/12/2012 - 13:41

Major: Physics
Thesis Advisor: David Hanneke

Q: What is your thesis topic?

A: I’m trying to triple the frequency of a laser beam using an affordable apparatus. I have to start by calculating different quantities, like the power output that I could get out of my design, so that I can optimize it and decide what kinds of mirrors and equipment to buy.

Q: For us non-physics majors, what is a laser beam?

A: A laser beam is a coherent source of light. It is very focused, so if you look at the cross section of the laser beam you get a lot of light power in the middle. The power decreases as you move farther away from the middle, resulting in a lot of power focused in one spot. Usually, people want a laser beam where the power stays in the middle for a very long distance. You don’t want a laser beam that diverges very quickly.

Q: How did you become interested in your thesis topic?

A: In my junior year I wanted to know more about physics research because I had no previous experience. I asked a few professors about working during the interterm, and that’s how I met Professor David Hanneke, my thesis advisor. He’s a new professor; he doesn’t have a lot of set-up equipment in his lab, so he needs this frequency converter to be built. I set to work designing that for him, and that’s how I got into this project, which I’m continuing to completion for my thesis.

Q: So the laser that you work on will actually be used in a lab?

A: Yes; it will be used for different measurements.

Q: So what’s the practical application of this laser?

A: The practical application is that since I’m tripling the frequency of the laser beam I will get the appropriate frequency to interact with beryllium ions. The professor needs to use the beryllium ions to do current physics.

Q: So far what has your thesis research consisted of?

A: So far I’ve been doing a lot of calculation and learning about the theory behind frequency conversion. I’ll use my calculations to make decisions about the kind of crystal and the properties of the optics, like mirrors and lenses, that I will need to use.

Q: What are the challenges of writing a thesis?

A: Time management is the big one, because even though we are required to take only three classes for the first semester the thesis still takes up enough time and energy that it’s hard to balance out quality class work and quality thesis work. For other departments it may also be difficult to obtain approval for a thesis because there might be many majors compared to the number of theses advisors.

Q: How much work have you put into your thesis so far?

A: The first week I was not working on it at all. This week I’ve spent a few hours on it. It should increase, especially when the apparatus comes in, and I will have to start spending more time doing experiments. I worked over the summer, where I could spend eight hours a day in lab thinking about my project and working on it, so getting used to not having all the time that I wanted to work on this is hard for me.

Q: So why write a thesis?

A: I wanted to write a thesis because it is such a great opportunity to do what I cannot do in class and do a long-term project. You learn subject material that’s not really covered in class. It goes into more focus and more detail and is probably a more advanced subject of study. For example, the book I am reading for my thesis is usually for a graduate-level course, so I get to have a taste of what physics research would be like. The other big benefit is being able to work closely with the professor.

Q: When you have a finished thesis, what will you do with it?

A: The professors in the physics department will look over it. At the end of the year I will give a presentation on it and the professors will ask me lots of questions that I will answer the best I can. After I graduate, depending on what I have finished, another student will take up the work of building or improving on this frequency conversion apparatus that I have designed.

Q: What are some high and low points of your thesis project so far? What was the most difficult/exciting part?

A: The low point was realizing last June that much of what I had been working out since January was incorrect. I was disappointed, but then was glad, because then my calculations after that point were clearer to follow and (as far as I know) more correct. The high point was when I got to the stage of being able to predict what type of nonlinear crystal would be best to use in the frequency converter. I think I will arrive at the most exciting part later, when I build the frequency converter from of the crystal, mirrors, lenses and other parts, and see it work (or not, which would be exciting, too).

Q: What are your future career aspirations?

A: I am undecided about several long term aspirations. For one, I’d like to do research in physical oceanography or atmospheric sciences. I’m also interested in the teaching of physics and math.

Q: What advice do you have for students interested in writing a thesis?

A: If you are interested in writing a thesis, by the time you make your decision to write one you should be pretty sure of the time you are willing to commit regularly during the academic year to the thesis. Your schedule will be more tightly packed than you thought it would be in junior year when contemplating the undertaking of a thesis.

Q: What advice do you have for students already writing a thesis?

A: Learn how to communicate best with your thesis advisor, in order to have concrete expectations of each other’s roles. I can’t tell if this is advice for fellow thesis writers or for myself.

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