Summer Internships: Elizabeth Tompkins '23

October 2, 2022

Name: Elizabeth Tompkins
Class Year: 2023
Major: Physics

Hometown: Wake Forest, NC
Internship: Summer Science Research at Bryn Mawr College
Location: Bryn Mawr, PA

In my lab this summer I have been working on redesigning an optical experiment to cool, trap, and excite rubidium atoms to observe long range interaction between the atoms. My primary focuses this summer were learning how to use and design the layout of optical tools used to conduct this experiment. We can excite atoms to rydberg states using laser light which is manipulated through optical apparatus and sent into a magnetooptical trap where the excitation will occur. I applied to work in this lab with Dr. Noel because I wanted to be able to gain experience in experimental design and hands on work in optical and atomic physics. I also wanted to work specifically with Dr. Noel because of his hands-on mentoring style.

Physics equipment from Elizabeth Tompkin's internship

My favorite part of my internship has been the freedom to experiment with my work and learn through the process of trial and error in order to achieve the best result. As you can see in the first image, there are many different pieces on the optical table that contribute to preparing a laser to enter the trap. Each of these pieces contributes to the multiple different types of modulation, regulation, and manipulation of laser light properties. As a result, in my work I have been able to gain an in-depth understanding of each of these components and help design the layout of the table shown. In addition to gaining a hands-on understanding of these optical components I have also been able to learn physics principles behind their use. Seeing complex physics demonstrated through this experiment has been especially rewarding for me, as often complex physical phenomena are very hard to create in a lab setting.

One of the challenges I faced in my research came with the territory of experimentation and failure. The first part of my summer consisted of many drafts of table designs each with notes for improvement from my advisor. When designing the experiment, it is important to keep lasers away from other magnetic table components as well as keep paths of the laser light to a minimum distance to avoid light dissipation. After we were able to pass the design phase, the next challenge was recalibrating laser output and component alignment. A major challenge for me was becoming comfortable working and experimenting with such delicate and precise tools. One way I gained comfort was by reading plenty of user manuals and literature about how to best align and calibrate optical apparatus.

magnetooptic trap

By the end of summer, we managed to align about 95% of the table. More work with prepping the magnetooptical trap is shown in the second image to be functional. After the trap is completed, we will begin running the experiment and tuning the system to excite atoms to specific Rydberg states and observe atom interactions. I am very grateful for knowledge and experience that I’ve gained this summer and I will be continuing my work with this experiment during the academic year.

Visit the Summer Internship Stories page to read more about student internship experiences.


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