Professors give Physics research opportunities in summer of 2021

By Emily Driskel, Reporter


This summer, two professors from the EWU Physics Department will be guiding students through two research opportunities through grants they received. 

Dr. Jason Stokes, lecturer for the EWU Physics department, said the process for applying for grants was difficult and easy at the same time. The program he applied to was called VSF, the Visiting Faculty Program, which is a part of the Department of Energy. Before teaching at EWU, Stokes did a VSP in Golden, Colorado, at a natural renewable energy laboratory. At that time, he had contacts with some scientists so he started by sending emails to ask if they would want to collaborate during this process.

Now teaching at EWU, Stokes said he gave up at first. 

“I thought, ‘Students don’t seem to be jazzed about physics,’” said Stokes. “There is a population that is but a lot of them are like ‘I have to take physics.’”

The hard part for Stokes was getting the initial connection. 

“The way that [FVP] works is a faculty member from a university teams up with a researcher at a national lab,” said Stokes. “But you’ve got to find mutual interests.” 

Students don’t seem to be jazzed about physics.” -Dr. Jason Stokes, Lecturer EWU Physics Department

His primary interests include thin film photovoltaics and technical spectroscopic ellipsometry. Stokes described it as a light characteristic called polarization. Eventually, Stokes was able to find someone with similar interests and go through the initial setup. 

“They just use this light, they manipulate light in such a way that it filters the light as it goes through the glasses so that you don’t get glare,” said Stokes. “Because the glare that you see actually has a type of polarization to it, and those polarized glasses block that orientation.”

Stokes uses a technique called spectroscopic ellipsometry that uses polarized light to tell him about thin films. 

He co-authored a proposal with a scientist down at PNNL, Pacific Northwest National Labs down in the Tri Cities. There were a few complications trying to get the proposal approved, such as COVID-19, but Stokes’s group got approval to do research in Richland, WA. 

Right now, Stokes is doing an independent study with his students, Derek Burke and Joel Price, to prepare for the summer. He wants to give them experience on the experimental techniques before the research actually starts. 

Stokes said he was excited about a technique he hopes to do while in Richland. 

“Pulsed laser deposition… basically you have your source, your source material and you bombard it with lasers so you do a laser pulse,” said Stokes. “… it knocks off all the pieces of this source material and then these pieces fly through the chamber.”

Illustration by Rebecca Savinski

Stokes and his students will be in Richland for 10 weeks. 

Dr. Andres Aragoneses, assistant professor for EWU’s Physics Department, will also be doing research this summer. The grant he received was from the Board of Trust Foundation. He will be doing research with a high school teacher from West Valley High School. They will be relating this research for the students. 

Aragoneses will be doing an experiment with lasers with his student. 

So we are using lasers … those tiny lasers that when you listen to the music in the car, you want that to be stable,” said Aragoneses. “But if there is a reflection that is back into the laser then it gets unstable and you don’t want that because music wouldn’t be as good.”

“I would love to have that opportunity when I was an undergrad.” -Dr. Andres Aragoneses, Assistant Professor for EWU’s Physics Department

He said in this experiment, there will be some input from two different places into the laser. It will characterize the behavior and intensity of that laser. This will be a priority for his research. 

Aragoneses said the ratio of EWU faculty to students is good because faculty has the opportunities to offer research opportunities like these to students. 

“I would love to have that opportunity when I was an undergrad but it was a huge university and all the research was graduate students and post bachs,” said Aragoneses. 

For his research experience with undergraduate students, they get to pursue interesting types of research. He said it is amazing what motivated undergraduate students can accomplish. 

Stokes said that a VFP is a great way to get an internship with the Department of Energy. Students can apply if they are interested in renewable energy, wind energy, biomass, and thermal energy as well as physics, mathematics, engineering and technology. 

If interested, students can look here for possible internship opportunities.