Project Description: Our group focuses on the fastest phenomena initiated in materials by the absorption of light. For example, we seek to understand the efficiency of the biological response to light in important mechanisms such as the human vision response (where light acts as a photo-switch) and ultraviolet photo-damage of DNA (where the very material of genetics acts as a highly effective sunscreen). These mechanisms involve important steps that take place in mere femtoseconds following the absorption of light, and require state-of-the-art laser tools for their capture. We also seek to control and modify the basic properties of crystalline materials with intense, ultrafast pulses of light. Recent evidence has pointed to ways to reversibly change the structure of the crystalline lattice itself, thus temporarily modifying the material order and properties that depend critically on structure.
In both of the examples above, the use of intense and ultrashort light pulses of infrared color are key, and our group is developing novel ways to create and control these unusual forms of light. In this REU project, students will join our team’s efforts to understand and design the methods we use to modify laser light to reach our goals, potentially involving a mixture of experimental and computational methods. Prior work with lasers and optics is unnecessary as a prerequisite, but will be considered.