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Physics major Nicholas Masluk ’06 (Bethlehem, Pa.) conducted research this summer that may lead to insights into the structure of atoms.

His efforts strengthen the ongoing research of atomic and molecular collisions by Andrew Kortyna, assistant professor of physics, whose work is supported by a $141,920 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Masluk worked to conduct lesser-known transitions with cesium atoms. He used a saturation absorption spectroscopy laser to study the wavelengths of the atoms and take high-resolution measurements of them. Cesium is important because it is used in atomic clocks, Kortyna explains.

“We looked at transitions in the atom that are not as well known to provide the scientific community with better data, allowing for more accurate knowledge on the structure of the atom,” Masluk says.

Kortyna has been working in the field of cold molecular collisions for nearly a decade. Prior to coming to Lafayette, he taught and conducted research while holding a National Science Foundation fellowship at Colby College. Before then, he was a postdoctoral scholar at Cal Tech and did research at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He still collaborates with NASA scientists and has conducted research at the University of Kaiserslautern in Germany.

The two worked through Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

“It is now possible to study collisions at one-millionth of a degree above absolute zero,” Kortyna says. “Motivations for pursuing this line of work include testing fundamental physical theories and providing detailed understanding of chemical processes important for future progress in fields such as nanomanufacturing [producing components the size of an atom or smaller].”

Previously, Timothy Bragdon ’04 (Rahway, N.J.) worked with Kortyna on this research, constructing the spectroscopy laser and assembling an integrated feedback circuit, which locks the wavelength of laser light to a specific location. The techniques Bragdon helped develop provided an important ingredient for studying cold collisions of atoms.

Kortyna says that Masluk progressed very well, completing more work than expected. He is a quiet worker, but produces “solid” results.

“He managed to get the experiment to a point where publishable data could be collected,” Kortyna adds.

“I’m really happy,” Masluk says. “I’m getting to do meaningful workWorking with [Kortyna] a lot more every day makes it a closer relationship than just in the classroom.”

Kortyna says Lafayette is very supportive of academic projects such as this EXCEL collaboration.

“A lot is expected of students,” he says. “You can get them to do a lot of work. You can set the bar high.”

Masluk would like to attend graduate school and earn a doctorate. He is a member of the Delta Upsilon fraternity.

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News