Research Wins Recent Graduate National Recognition


BEN BARNHART

Physics professor Janice Hudgings and Charis Quay Huei Li '01 observe light from a vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser being back-reflected into the laser from an external mirror. A small amount of the light is coupled out of the beam path using a beam splitter; that light is sent to a photodetector and a spectrometer for analysis.

Frustrated by a slow Internet connection or laser printer? Then you'll be thankful that Charis Quay Huei Li '01 worked as a research student with physics professor Janice Hudgings before graduating summa cum laude with a degree in physics in May.

Quay's cutting-edge research on vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) is taking physicists one step closer to replacing the traditional semiconductor lasers that transmit data in high-speed communication tools. The replacement could mean Internet connections at least ten times faster than what is available today and CDs that hold as much as an entire movie's-worth of information, according to Hudgings.

"These are the next generation in lasers," says Hudgings, who specializes in optics research. "When I heard what a phenomenal student Charis is, I approached her to join me in studying them."

Scientists far beyond South Hadley are also taking note of Quay's research, which uncovered certain sensitivities of the VCSEL light beam. In July, the American Physical Society (APS) named Quay one of seven finalists for the national LeRoy Apker Award, which is awarded annually for outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduate students.

"The Apker Prize is the most prestigious award in undergraduate physics," says Hudgings. "We're all very proud of Charis for being named a finalist; the honor is well deserved!"

As an Apker finalist, Quay will receive a $2,000 honorarium in Washington, D.C., September 10. Winners, who will be named later in September, will receive an additional $5,000 and an award allowance for travel to APS's March meeting in Indianapolis.

By that time, Quay may be shedding light on another area of experimental physics at Stanford University, where she is now a graduate student.


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