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Engineering Student Shares Insights from a Semester at Los Alamos National Laboratory

Zhiqin Huang, a doctoral student in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, received a grant to spend time at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. By leveraging the lab’s cutting-edge facilities and other resources, she aimed to gain skills and knowledge to inform her dissertation on novel nanostructures to develop extremely low-energy and ultrafast plasmonic switches.

Huang was among 19 graduate students from five schools at Duke who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants in 2016 for training beyond their core disciplines. Her faculty mentor was David R. Smith. She shared this update.

Thanks to the GSTEG, I had a chance to visit Los Alamos National Lab (LANL) for a half year. Located in New Mexico, it is probably the most famous federal government laboratory and well known for decades due to the development of the first atomic bomb and research in multiple disciplines.

During this visit, I obtained a comprehensive training including hands-on laser training, electricity safety training, cryogen safety, radiological training, chemical safety, hazardous waste and environment management as well as lab management trainings.

Since I needed to go to Sandia National Lab (SNL) to do experiments, I got various related training there on different high-tech fabrication tools such as JEOL EBL (E-beam lithography) and ALD (Atomic layer deposition). I also learned how to make graphene, which is a very interesting 2D material. All these trainings were very helpful to my research in LANL and at Duke.

The main purpose of the visit was to learn optics-related experiment techniques. I had a chance to work with scientists in the laboratory for ultrafast materials and optical sciences (LUMOS). In particular, I got involved in the optical ultrafast pump-probe experiments to investigate new materials such as Weyl’s metals and Dirac materials. I also learned the Terahertz (THz) pump and optical probe system.

Based on the rich resources in the national lab, I even built a new pump-probe system independently and did a group of experiments using newly fabricated samples and obtained primary results.

In addition, I attended the training for a newly developed optical system known as scattering-type scanning near-field optical microscopy (s-SNOM), which includes AFM, nano-FTIR, nano-imaging and ultrafast pump-probe with the spatial resolution of 10nm and temporal resolution of 10fs. This incredible experience will be essential when we build our own system at Duke in the near future.

Furthermore, I attended several LANL internal forums related to nanooptics as well as invaluable seminars given by researchers in the lab and invited scholars. Through discussions with some talented experts in the field of my research, I gained a much better understanding on both theory and experiments.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to step away from their core research and training to acquire additional skills, knowledge or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

Read about other 2016-2017 recipients’ experiences: