Janice Hudgings

Citation for 2006 Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

A half century ago, lasers were unknown, their existence unsuspected, even in theory. For those of us of a certain age, the word still conjures up the beams of brilliant red light produced by the first primitive ruby lasers. Lasers were a dozen years old when Janice was born, and what she does with them, and to them, is the stuff most of us can barely imagine. Her intellect is as luminous as the devices she studies. Janice earned her B.A. in Mathematics and a B.S. in Engineering with distinction from Swarthmore College, 15 years ago. A winner of a Rhodes Scholarship, she spent a year at Oxford University collecting a Master of Science in Mathematics, before attending Berkeley where she earned a Master of Science and a Ph.D., both in Electrical Engineering. The latter was awarded in 1999, the year she joined the Physics Department at Mount Holyoke College.

But that was then--what has she done lately? Since coming here, she has won eight competitive grants. Perhaps the most prestigious was her NSF Faculty Early CAREER Development Grant. Although she never took time for postdoc work, Janice has still published an astonishing amount—19 papers in major physics journals. In addition she has presented 28 conference papers. Four of our MHC students are co-authors on the journal articles and nine have co-authored one or more conference papers. And so Janice was awarded the Optical Society of America’s prestigious Esther Hoffman Beller Medal in recognition of her publishable work with undergraduates.

Janice studies a range of semiconductor devices, including lasers, amplifiers and solar cells. The lasers she uses are called vixels, spelled VCSELs, which stands for Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers. These have potential applications in communication networks, radar, and optical disc readouts, and she studies these VCSELs both for their practical uses but also to understand their fundamental nature. In laser applications, there is optical feedback--that is reflection back into the laser of emitted light. Understanding how back reflection affects the operation of the laser can lead to greater theoretical understanding and improvements in design. Indeed, Janice has one patent for a VCSEL-related discovery, and a second is pending.

Where there is light, there is also heat, and another line of Janice’s research considers just that. She uses thermal mapping to study the workings of optical devices. This technique exploits minute surface temperature variations on a microscopic scale to produce images. The resulting data provide a non-invasive diagnostic for what the device is actually doing. The work, a collaboration with a group at MIT, pushes the limits of what is possible in thermography.

Here are the words of another physicist describing Janice’s talk at CLEO, the top conference in her field. “The importance of Janice’s work was brought home to me particularly strongly when I went to her talk...the room was absolutely packed - I had to squeeze into a tiny standing spot by the door. After her excellent presentation, Janice was peppered with questions from experts at the most prestigious universities. They went well over the question period...and more than an hour later I saw Janice still encircled by a group eager to know more about her results.”

Janice uses a variety of techniques for opening doors to her discipline. One is called Just In Time teaching, a learning strategy that depends on cleverly constructed web-based assignments, which are due before class and illustrate what the students have learned — or not. Read by Janice “just in time” for class, these responses allow her to adjust the material to meet the students’ needs. Such modifications fundamentally change the nature of the classroom experience. Also, to help counteract the fact that so few women are physicists, Janice and Becky Packard created a website. This interactive site presents women physicists such as a NASA robot builder, a prosthetic limb developer, and an acoustical consultant – all good role models for young women beginning physics. But the best role model is – Janice – with her passion for the experimental and the theoretical, happy here in what she calls her “dream job,” and an awesome recipient of this award.