University of Rochester

Pittsford Teens Honored for Laser Research at University

January 26, 1999

Two local teens who performed research last summer at one of the University of Rochester's premier laboratories were recently named among 300 semifinalists nationwide in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search.

Steven Corsello of Pittsford Mendon High School and Nieraj Jain of Pittsford Sutherland High School were among 11 students who participated in an intensive two-month internship last summer at the University's Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE).

"I think it is a notable accomplishment that we can claim two semi-finalists from our program," says R. Stephen Craxton, program director and LLE physicist. "Steve and Nieraj really got a unique insight into what research is like. They have done exceptionally well to get this recognition; for a student to be one of 300 nationwide is a great accomplishment. I'm delighted for them," Craxton says.

The students took part in the laboratory's Summer High School Academic Research Program, which grooms young scientists through exposure to sophisticated research in a laboratory claiming one of the biggest and most powerful lasers in the world.

Both Corsello and Jain worked on projects that involve tailoring laser beams precisely, so that the beams illuminate a tiny target uniformly. Such work is key to the laboratory's mission to study the conditions necessary to create and sustain fusion reactions. The students contributed to the design of a liquid crystal point diffraction interferometer (LCPDI) to measure tiny imperfections in laser beams. The device was initially developed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for microgravity studies and potential commercial uses, such as optical testing. To use in experiments with LLE's giant Omega laser, the students helped extend the technology to the infrared region, enabling engineers to monitor the quality of the laser beams.

According to Craxton, Corsello requested an assignment that he could enter in the Intel competition and was given a particularly challenging problem. Working closely with research engineer Kenneth L. Marshall, Corsello designed a new dye molecule that engineers believe will be sufficiently soluble in liquid crystal materials to get the contrast necessary for analyzing infrared laser beams. Corsello used various computer modeling packages to design and analyze molecules, and to verify his predictions.

For his project, Jain worked with research engineer Mark Guardalben to improve the computer models that engineers use to analyze signals produced by the interferometer. Jain modeled the device, then calculated ways to significantly reduce fabrication errors.

The research is typical of the work done by students who take part in LLE's research program. Students are assigned a supervisor and research problem and work full time on their projects for eight weeks. A concluding symposium in August gives students experience in presenting their project results to an audience of peers, parents and scientists. In the 10 summers that LLE has offered the program, seven of its students have been honored in the Intel competition (formerly the Westinghouse Science Talent Search), one of whom was a finalist. In fact, students working at the laboratory make up the majority of Rochester-area students so honored during the past decade. Invariably the students chosen for the internship program show a deep curiosity in science and the persistence and initiative that scientific research demands. LLE offers the opportunity to outstanding students during the summer following their junior year in high school.

Applications for the program are sent to area high schools in February or can be obtained directly by calling Mary Ellen McMahon at 275-9517. For more information about the program itself, please contact Steve Craxton at 275-5467.