Featured Alum: David Stegall, Ph.D., Physics 1994

When Professor Becker contacted me to request an essay for the CBU Newsletter, my first thought was to look for any fine print on the diploma regarding future homework assignments. To my great disappointment, no such homework clause exists, but that has not stopped me! I always found the faculty at CBU to be personable and engaging so I feel honored to be remembered in this manner. Actually, writing this article has offered me the opportunity to reminisce about my life and how persistent progress, accidental fortunes, and singular moments led to my current circumstances.

I believe that my parents would tell you that I was like every other rowdy boy in the neighborhood -sunburned from play during the summer and flinging snowballs at every opportunity that the winter in Memphis could provide. Old toys were not to be merely thrown away, but were subjected to total dissection. Batteries, speakers, or anything else worthy of extraction from an old radio were mine to eventually take to show and tell. I don’t think my parents were aware of everything that got disassembled but at least I never burnt the house down. Maybe I scorched a sink or two. If I could pinpoint a seminal moment, it would be the age of 13. Halley’s Comet was going to swing by that year. I was eminently aware that the next time it came, I probably would not be around to see it. Mark Twain had been born on one of the comet’s prior rendezvous with Earth and he managed to live just long enough to see it come around again. Although the thought was morbid, it placed a sense of urgency in me. I appreciated that there’s no moment to delay in learning and understanding the natural world around us. We may not get a second chance to not only witness, but participate in such rare cosmic spectacles. My destiny was sealed. I was not only going to see that comet with my naked eyes, but I was going to photograph it! From that moment, I became familiar with telescopes, astrophotography, and the requisite understanding in optics (at least as much as I understood with my middle school science). Astronomy and astrophotography were to become a launching pad into my career as an optical physicist.

When I first set foot into CBU in 1992, I was put at ease by the tone set by the CBU faculty. We had small classes and the professors were so much more accessible than at some of the larger schools that I previously attended. CBU was also unusual since it offered several upper level physics courses dedicated to the field of optics. Professors like Dr. Holmes and Dr. Varriano were fantastic at teaching me the skills that I would need to become an independent researcher. I can still recall the tedious hours of time spent in the optics and dark labs, exposing and developing optical filters for my senior project. It was this kind of discipline and experience that served me well when I began my PhD at the Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester in 1994. However, I was certainly less prepared for the ten feet of snow per year that Rochester typically receives!

I wrapped up my dissertation in the fall of 2000. Under the tutelage of Professor Turan Erdogan, my dissertation delved into the topic of optical fiber Bragg gratings. You might recall that we were experiencing the arrival of the internet and the juggernaut of the .com industry. The optical fiber telecommunications industry was rapidly growing in the euphoria of the internet age and it led to my career in corporate research. In order to sustain the demand for high-speed internet bandwidth, there was a widely held belief that optical fiber communication systems were going to need to improve. I joined the laboratories at 3M, where they were developing optical fiber grating filters to serve a variety of functions – chromatic dispersion compensation, erbium-doped fiber amplifier filters, add/drop filters, etc. These were exciting times in my field. Of course, the optical telecommunications bubble burst very soon after the .com bubble’s demise and the mission of the 3M lab had to evolve.

A scanning electron micrograph of a square lattice photonic crystal fabricated with a 500 nm period

When handed a lemon, one should make lemonade. Thus, the lab adapted. The leading-edge technology that had been developed for make fiber gratings was not abandoned. For example, we had learned how to stitch together a modulation to the refractive index along the length of the fiber core such that errors were less than one part in a million. If the grating was to have a period of about one micron, then that period was accurate to within 10’s of nanometers over a length of a meter. Some fiber gratings were even longer than a meter – a cutting-edge achievement at the time. What could be done along one-dimension, we learned, could also be done along two. Consequently, the lab developed a method to fabricate two-dimensional sub-micron periodic structures over large areas. In some cases, such structures are referred to as photonic crystals. An example of such a structure is shown in the figure on the right. Photonic crystals naturally occur in nature and can be found on the wings of butterflies, the outer shells of diatoms ( a kind of plankton), and even in the hairs found on the leaves of plants, like the edelweiss. They have even been found in fossilized remains dating back hundreds of millions of years. A photonic crystal has the ability to manipulate light due to its periodic refractive index modulation. At 3M, I lead a project that is developing methods to mass-produce photonic crystals that will be used in organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs). OLEDs are a developing technology that provide advantages over more traditional sources of light. They are made of organic materials, akin to plastics, and thus do not require nearly as complicated fabrication equipment as traditional inorganic semiconductor LEDs. They are dramatically more efficient than fluorescent lights and thus will be entering into the general lighting markets in a few years. Compared to LCD displays found in televisions, monitors, and cell phones, OLEDs are more efficient , more colorful, and ultimately simpler in construction. As a matter of fact, Samsung and LG are already selling cell phones using small OLED screens. 3M is in a unique position to mass produce a technology that permits OLEDs to emit light more efficiently by using photonic crystal films. We refer to these products as light extraction films. Without a light extraction film, most of the light generated within the OLED remains trapped due to internal reflections. Light extraction films provide a very fundamental modification to the internal geometry of an OLED that permits much more light to be emitted in directions that can escape the device. The benefit to a consumer would be longer battery usage time, a longer OLED display or lighting lifetime, and even a more satisfying distribution of the emitted light. Currently, we are still in the development stages of the product, but we have been getting very encouraging feedback from our prototypes to potential customers.

Featured Alum: Analice Hosey Sowell, B.S. Chemistry (minors math, physics), 2002; Master of Arts in Teaching, 2005

Analice Sowell, and her husband, Michael

Teaching is 1% grading papers and 99% being interested in your students and subject you teach. The CBU science professors definitely love the science they teach, and always tried to express that in everything they did. This enjoyment of teaching and working with students has remained with me as I teach my own chemistry students at MUS. When I teach, I always try to think back to the first time I learned something new. I continually remind myself that at one time, I was in my students’ shoes … barely knowing what a chemical compound was, how to balance an equation, or even how to spell “stoichiometry” much less complete a problem. But, I always try to pattern my teaching after the great teachers I had in the School of Sciences. Many times, during my lectures, I’ll pause and chuckle to myself, knowing I just did something or said something just like a science professor I had at CBU. I’m proud to be a teacher, and I’m proud to say I’m a CBU graduate. After all, people see a science degree from CBU and immediately know the outstanding reputation of the School.

But, how did I decide to become a teacher? I worked at CBU after graduating with my Chemistry degree and attended graduate school at night to earn my M.A.T. I definitely had an interest in science and at the time was involved in many education outreach programs, so pursuing graduate work in education was a perfect fit. Once I finished my M.A.T, I took at job with Buckeye Technologies in the Product & Market Development Division as a Chemist. I enjoyed my work, and learned a great deal of real world applications of chemistry. However, I really wanted to go back into the classroom, and I had my chance. Through networking at ACS events like the High School Chemistry Competition (which CBU and ACS sponsor) I met many high school teachers. MUS had an opening for a chemistry instructor, and I readily accepted the chance to teach at a wonderful school like MUS. I will never regret pursuing a career in industry, because I learned so much during that time. However, teaching is definitely my calling. I have great students, and I love going down the halls and hearing “Hey Mrs. Sowell!” My students definitely know my classes are not easy. But, they also know that I will help them when they need me – just like all of my CBU science professors helped me. For some people, teaching high school might seem easy. I beg to differ! Anyone who says a high school teacher has a boring, effortless job evidently has never taught school. It’s a dream come true to teach at MUS, but I infinitely stay in running mode — keeping up with teenagers definitely keeps you on your toes!

Analice’s chemistry students at MUS

Outside of the classroom, my husband Michael and I enjoy attending MUS sporting events together. I’m also involved in the local section of the American Chemical Society, where I currently serve as Chair. Also, I serve on a national committee for ACS where we (the committee) develop K-8 science outreach activities for National Chemistry Week and Chemists Celebrate Earth Day programs. Additionally, I serve as a member of the Program Advisory Committee for the Graduate Education Programs at CBU. My days are busy, but thankfully my loving husband and family support my volunteer efforts and my dedication to teaching. I work with wonderful people at MUS, and I can honestly say I really am having the time of my life teaching here! I know that I do not have 65 aspiring chemists in my classes, but as long as they walk away from their year of Chemistry with an appreciation of all that it has to offer, and what it has given us, I can most assuredly say I have done my job.

Featured Alum: David McKenzie, 1989 Physics alum

I graduated from CBU (then CBC) in 1989 with a B.S. in Physics. I started college with an EE major, but the physics labs were so much like a ‘magic store’ that I was soon captivated and changed my major. True, there were only a handful of physics majors at the time; but the small classes and focused attention of the faculty are qualities of my CBU experience that I wouldn’t trade. After CBU, I attended graduate school at the University of Delaware in the Joint Program of the Department of Physics & Astronomy and the Bartol Research Institute. There I received my M.S. for research on flare stars using the local observatory; and I received my Ph.D. for research on the solar corona using an X-ray telescope on the Yohkoh solar-observing satellite. I got totally hooked on operating telescopes and making observations, an interest that started while I was a student at CBU, and which placed me in a perfect position for my current work. And also at UDel, I met my wonderful wife, Wendy.

I was hired right out of grad school to do Education & Public Outreach, and mission operations, for the Yohkoh satellite mission. That brought me to Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana. After ten years at MSU, I’m now an Assistant Research Professor of Physics. My specialties are solar physics, solar observations, solar flares, and magnetic reconnection. I advise undergraduate and graduate students on research projects about the Sun, and I oversee a team of grad students, postdocs, and research scientists responsible for operating telescopes on two satellites: NASA’s TRACE mission, and the Japan/US/UK Hinode mission. For the Yohkoh mission, and for the Hinode mission, being involved in operations means that sometimes a person has to travel to Japan for several weeks. Darn the luck. All in all, I’ve spent about 20 months in Japan, feasting on the history, culture, food, sightseeing, and international camaraderie. And in California, DC, Hawaii, Norway, and Scotland.

This is a super-snazzy image of a solar eruption. It was taken by the TRACE satellite, and shows solar plasma with temperatures near 1.25 million degrees C.

Bragging a little? You bet! I couldn’t be happier: we’re doing cutting-edge astrophysics as an integral part of the scientific community. But more than that, I have the opportunity to help the next generation of scientists, by being involved in the training of graduate students and undergrad researchers and giving them hands-on experience with the instruments and the data. Along the way, I constantly remember my time at CBU, and strive to give my students the same ‘magic store’ experience I had.