NSF Grant to Lorelle Pye Optimal for Optics

Lorelle Pye FP’13 (far right) on commencement weekend 2013

At Mount Holyoke, Lorelle Pye FP’13 graduated summa cum laude with a major in physics. A year later, as she finishes her first year as a Ph.D. candidate in optics at the University of Central Florida (UCF), she has received a graduate fellowship from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Pye’s research at UCF’s College of Optics and Photonics focuses on the design and fabrication of integrated optical devices demonstrating parity-time symmetry. She describes parity-time symmetric systems as having equal parts gain and loss. This work can advance the development of small-scale integrated photonic devices with greater bandwidth and higher functionality, as well as lower cost and power consumption.

The road from vet tech to scientist

Pye grew up in a Florida community that she says had a below-average school system, one in which students rarely were encouraged to pursue higher education. After high school, she worked full-time as a veterinary technician until she’d saved enough money to move to Massachusetts, where she attended Holyoke Community College. While there, she had a summer internship in the physics department at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

After graduating from HCC with honors, Pye transferred to Mount Holyoke through the NSF Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S-STEM) program. The work she did on organic transistors as a member of professor Janice Hudgings’s optoelectronics research group led to a summer internship in the polymer science department at UMass–Amherst.

“I wrote my senior honors thesis based on that research and presented it at Senior Symposium,” said Pye, who was employed at the South Hadley Animal Hospital nearly full-time as a veterinary technician throughout her undergraduate studies.

While at Mount Holyoke, Pye also presented at the Optical Society of America’s annual conference. She also has a publication forthcoming in Advanced Materials. She credits the MHC physics department with providing “a superior and thorough education” that eased her transition to graduate school.

As someone who has experienced gender imbalance in the field of physics, Pye regards her two years at Mount Holyoke as extraordinary. She learned that women can thrive in science if they find an environment that supports and empowers them. She added, “Mount Holyoke makes it possible for any woman, regardless of the path she took [to get there], to be successful in the sciences.”

After finishing graduate school, Pye plans to find a position in optics-related industrial research. She enjoys the problem solving and analytical thinking involved in experimental work.

“I am passionate about scientific research. I’m equally passionate about encouraging young women to enter and stay in the STEM fields. I plan to make outreach part of my mission as a scientist,” she says.

—By Michelle Ducharme