Or it can offer them the chance to learn while building a new lab with their professor.
Such was the case last summer when David Negro '06 and Soo Hooi Oh '06 helped Boon Siew Ooi, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, set up a new optoelectronics and photonics lab in Lehigh's Center for Optical Technologies.
The students' mission was to assemble the lab's several optical waveguide and semiconductor laser characterization stations, and interface them with a central computer so all the new equipment could be controlled from the same keyboard and mouse.
"Neither of us knew a whole lot about photonics before last summer," says Negro, an electrical engineering major, "so the learning experience was huge.
"We not only had to learn how to use new tools, we also had to manipulate the tools for unconventional purposes."
"We had to build the lab, learn the equipment, see how the different instruments work together and learn to be creative," says Oh, a triple major in electrical engineering, integrated business and engineering (IBE) and music composition.
One purpose of the new lab, says Ooi, is to develop emitters and other light sources for use in medical technology, the semiconductor industry and other applications.
Ooi has a grant from Carl Zeiss Meditec Inc., a German-based international maker of eye ophthalmology systems, to develop a semiconductor light source that would increase the sensitivity and resolution of the system.
"We have developed a broadband light source for this application," says Ooi, "but we need to increase the bandwidth and the strength of its signal."
Negro and Oh were chosen for their internship after successfully completing Fundamentals of Semiconductor Devices, a sophomore-level electrical engineering course that Ooi taught last spring. Their internships were funded by the COT.
The students assembled the lab's state-of-the-art equipment the old-fashioned way, says Negro. "We read the manuals, we got stuck and then we called the company hotline."
The students spent much of the summer measuring the performance of the new equipment, characterizing the properties of photonic devices and semiconductor chips, and generating and guiding laser signals.
They also helped determine the properties of quantum dot materials. Quantum dots, which emit the light that creates lasers, are nanometer-size semiconductor structures in which the presence or absence of a quantum electron can be used to store information.
"We tried to modify the bandgap and lasing wavelength in order to control the optical properties of the quantum-dot structures," says Soo, who hopes to continue her work in the area by setting up the photoluminescent system that can characterize this nano-material structure.
Using Labview software, Negro and Oh integrated the new equipment to a central computer, then merged data from two or more machines so that the experimental results could be plotted in one graph on the computer screen.
"Without the computer, it would have taken an entire day to generate a graph," says Negro. "With the computer, we generated the same graph in two seconds."
In addition to gaining valuable experience in the lab, the students realized other benefits from their summer internship.
"This opened a wide variety of options for me," says Negro, who hopes to take advantage of the university's Presidential Scholarship program, which offers a tuition-free fifth year of study to students with a 3.75 undergraduate GPA.
"Working in a lab requires a lot of patience and dedication," says Oh. "It has enabled me to see what it would be like to be a graduate student. It has also shown me what I'm lacking, and that will help me know what electives to choose the next two years."
Posted on Wednesday, December 01, 2004