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NSF grant brings cutting edge research equipment to campus thanks to stimulus funding

  • July 1, 2010 8:00am

Cal State East Bay's physics and chemistry labs got a boost earlier this year from the National Science Foundation and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — more commonly known as the federal economic stimulus bill.

The NSF makes annual awards to purchase of major research instrumentation across the country; the ARRA provided extra funds for the NSF to offer a second round of awards. A group of science faculty members took the opportunity to submit a proposal and were granted $393,388 for two femtosecond laser based spectrometers. (You can read the abstract on the NSF site.)

Assistant Professor Derek Kimball (physics), Assistant Professor Erik Helgren (physics), Associate Professor and department chair Jason Singley (physics), and Assistant Professor Tony Masiello (chemistry and biochemistry) collaborated on the proposal, which was one of 10 successful applications in the last round. Even though their research is in different areas, all of them use spectroscopy in the study of matter; the overlapping needs made it natural to work together.

A femtosecond is an extremely small fraction of a second — one quadrillionth, explains Singley. A femtosecond laser emits ultrashort pulses of light instead of a constant beam. They are used primarily for spectroscopy — a method used to examine the reaction of atoms and molecules to light, specifically the energy states and electron dynamics.

Of the two new spectrometers, one uses a method called "frequency comb" to measure a range of optical and infrared frequencies with extraordinary accuracy. Singley points out that this is an extremely new technology — the frequency comb method received the Nobel Prize in physics in 2005, only five years after it was first demonstrated. "And it will be used by CSUEB students in 2010," he says.

The other is a THz (terahertz) spectrometer — similar to those used at airports to detect weapons and explosives. Singley explains that it can probe solids and gases in the electromagnetic spectrum.

The equipment will be set up this summer, and the four faculty members will begin their research as soon as possible. Kimball, concentrating on atomic physics, plans to use the frequency comb to search for new energy levels in atoms and test fundamental physical theories. Singley will be researching magnetic semiconductors.

Masiello will use the spectrometers to examine the characteristics of greenhouse gases, some of which aren't yet understood - and his findings can help create a better picture of global warming. Helgren will continue his work in condensed matter physics, which help him develop new kinds of solar cells (read more about that in the most recent issue of Cal State East Bay Magazine.


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