(CONTRIBUTED/ Ty Naquin)
Ty Naquin, a senior physics major from Millbrook, Alabama, had the opportunity to research optics under Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gerard Mourou in France during the summer of 2019.
What if your job this summer was hanging out in the lab with one of the best people in your field trying to solve problems that you are passionate about?
Ty Naquin, a senior physics major from Milbrook, Alabama, got a chance to spend his summer researching optics under a program run by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Gerard Mourou in France.
Naquin received the opportunity under the Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) funded by the National Science Foundation. According to James Sanders, assistant professor of physics, an REU is a government-funded program that provides undergraduate students the opportunity to participate in some way in research in their major field of study. The opportunity allows students to experience research at world-class facilities with top-notch research faculty.
The University of Michigan’s Center for Ultrafast Optical Science (CUOS) in collaboration with its French partner institutions played host to Naquin’s program called Optics in the City of Lights. His research involved shooting high-intensity laser pulses that are like “chirps” at cancer cells and studying its effect on them.
“I was excited when I learned that I was going to work with Mourou,” Naquin said. ”It was pretty cool, and I got to eat lunch with him and stuff and talk to him.
“He is an interesting guy who has lots of good experiences and ideas to share. I had a chance at gaining quite a few valuable opinions from him.”
“My whole REU was based on research on optics,” he said. “I basically worked with fancy lasers, shooting it at cancer cells trying to kill them. Mourou invented the method where you shoot a laser like how a bird chirps.
“You have a laser, the pulse goes, and then it like stops and then starts back up again like a chirp, and you could do fancy stuff with that.”
Living and researching in Paris meant that Naquin was also working with student researchers from all over the world.
“I worked with people from Africa, Middle East, Europe, and Asia,” he said. “It was interesting when you were trying to communicate with everyone, especially when you know English is not their first language.
“You can communicate easily in basic things like going out to lunch or something. But when we start talking science things get interesting as you are trying to get your idea across. When we are trying to assemble an apparatus and I’m trying to explain to you why my idea would work and yours won’t or something it would get really interesting.”
Researching in Paris meant that Naquin was not only interacting with people from different backgrounds inside his labs but also was experiencing the French city and its culture.
“The change of location brings with it a change of culture both within the research group with which the visiting student works and beyond this group of colleagues,” Sanders said.
“This change of pace and change of culture may also prove to be an invaluable experience.”
Sanders recognizes REU as being a vital experience that strengthens a student’s resume for graduate school since it indicates that the student has begun to develop some of the research skills needed to be successful in the pursuit of a higher degree.
“Moreover, the experience of participating in research — of working in the student’s field but outside of the classroom — often strengthens (or in some cases, rekindles) a student’s dedication to and enthusiasm for his field of study,” Sanders said.
“Troy is not a research college so we don’t have very many opportunities for research,” Naquin said. “And for people that go to colleges like Troy where you can’t get a lot of research, this was a great opportunity to get an experience (with) something I am interested in and that I can put on my resume for when I apply to grad school that will help me get in.”