It was exciting to go behind the scenes as a kid to see all of the hardware they used to train astronauts. When I was considering colleges, I was actually interested in aerospace engineering programs. Ultimately, I chose to study physics, but I didn’t enjoy it at first because I got tired of all the bookwork and wanted to do something with my hands. I considered switching degrees, but my advisor recommended that I try working in an experimental physics laboratory first. I got to apply what I was learning by building complex physical systems, and I enjoyed it a lot more after that. I continued with physics into grad school, and now I’m a quantum engineer.
My PhD research is in atomic physics. We use lasers and vacuum chambers to study atoms. If you want to learn something about the fundamental physics of a few atoms, then you have to isolate them from the environment and be clever about how you probe the system. In my experiment we use a UV laser and careful control of the fields around our atoms to engineer interesting interactions between them. Adding an MS in Electrical Engineering gave me a depth of knowledge in optics and laser systems that I use every day in my research. I enjoy my work because it’s not just theoretical; I get to experiment and test what I’m studying.
I’m currently president of the Stanford Optical Society. It’s a student-run organization made up of graduate students who work in fields related to optics. Part of our organization’s mission is community outreach, which is how I got involved. I did a lot of educational physics outreach as an undergrad and wanted to get involved in something similar at Stanford. We do everything from large-scale events like the Bay Area Science Festival to smaller presentations at elementary school science nights. I recently got to go back and present to kids from my elementary school in Half Moon Bay, which was a blast. I enjoy participating in these events because I get to help foster the next generation of scientists and engineers.