Aug. 6-19, 1999
Vol. 29, Issue 24
Inside UVA Online
the Newsletter for Faculty & Staff at the University of Virginia
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NSF awards $2.5 million grant for laser research

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NSF awards $2.5 million grant for graduate education in laser research

By Fariss Samarrai

A new multidisciplinary graduate research and education program that will investigate laser interactions with matter has been awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training Program.

The grant will allow several U.Va. science and engineering departments to create a collaborative laser research and education program with Norfolk State University, the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLAB) Free Electron Laser Laboratory in Newport News, and with the Laser Processing Consortium, an industrial group affiliated with JLAB.

"Laser technology is the light fantastic for studies of matter in several disciplines, and we are designing a program that will cross the disciplinary lines and allow interactions with other institutions and industry," says Ian Harrison, principal investigator for the project and U.Va. associate professor of chemistry.

The U.Va. Departments of Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, Engineering Physics, Materials Science, and Physics are working together to develop the graduate training and research project. The goal is to educate graduate students with the state-of-the-art technical skills and cross-disciplinary knowledge needed to succeed in the fast-changing fields of science and technology.

"One of the built-in objectives of our project is to improve research opportunities for minority science and engineering students through our collaboration with Norfolk State,"says Harrison. "NSU has a strong materials science program at the master's degree level, but no Ph.D. program. We hope to recruit some of their best students into U.Va.'s doctoral programs. We already expect to have two NSU graduates come to U.Va. in January."

Now in their second year, the graduate education and research training, or IGERT, grants are intended to produce scientists and engineers who are well-prepared for a broad spectrum of emerging career opportunities in industry, government and academe.

Accordingly, students will pursue wide-ranging, problem-oriented research projects involving several research mentors, engage in industrial internships and workshops, and acquire novel research experiences at national and international laboratories.

Research at the Newport News lab using high-energy lasers allows scientists to create and observe chemical and physical changes in matter and to modify the structure of materials. Knowledge gained from studies of laser interaction with matter can often lead to practical uses, such as improved materials and microelectronics processing, corrective eye surgery, and advanced tests and diagnostics for medicine and forensics.

"Graduate students in our program will use the ultra-fast lasers available at U.Va. and Norfolk State in conjunction with the high-power Free Electron Laser at JLAB -- the most powerful in the world -- to conduct unique fundamental studies of atomic, molecular, and materials modification," Harrison says.

Students will present their research findings twice a year at symposia with the Laser Processing Consortium. An industrial summer internship at JLAB for second-year graduate students will provide hands-on exposure to industrial science. Academic training will be enhanced by new team-taught courses on lasers and materials and a series of seminars on laser science and engineering.

"We also will establish a regional 'Minority Graduate Education and Jobs in Science' recruitment weekend at JLAB to attract minority students to our joint project with NSU and for recruitment opportunities with other graduate schools and industry," Harrison says.

"This grant from NSF will help us to continually improve science and technology research and education at U.Va., which is a key priority at the University," he adds. Harrison is a member of the Science and Technology Planning Commission at U.Va., which is charged with seeking ways to advance the University in these areas.

For more details about the laser project, visit the program web site at

© Copyright 1999 by the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia

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Staff Writers
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Fariss Samarrai
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