A Postcard From: Ankitha Kannad ’19

Name: Ankitha Kannad
Class Year: 2019
Major: Physics
Hometown: Bangalore, India

Internship Placement: Summer Science Research Program
Job Title: Research Assistant
Location: Bryn Mawr College

What’s happening at your internship?

I am doing atomic physics research with Professor Mike Noel in the Bryn Mawr College Physics Department. In the lab, we use lasers to excite rubidium atoms to very high energy levels called Rydberg states. We then apply electric fields to ionize the atoms and determine the energy levels of their electrons after ionization. This process is further complicated by the Stark effect that shifts energy levels in an electric field and makes it difficult to resolve closely-spaced states. A possible solution, employed by our experiment, is to vary the electric field in a particular manner so as to control the ionization process. These perturbations of the electric field are determined using a genetic algorithm that closely resembles gene transfer and mutation in biology. Our final goal for this experiment is to separate closely spaced states which will be useful for fields like quantum computing.

Currently, we are working on improving the optimization capabilities of the genetic algorithm so we can begin collecting data for an upcoming paper!

Why did you apply for this internship?

I worked in Professor Noel’s lab over winter break and really enjoyed experimenting with the various optical instruments used in their research. With some lab experience under my belt and a more solid grounding in quantum mechanics, I wanted to further explore the theory behind their work in the lab and also take part in answering some of the tough questions the field poses.

What has been your favorite part of this internship?

I have really enjoyed working with our entire team at the lab. When problems arise in our experiment, we usually discuss them together and the process is especially helpful at revealing gaps in my understanding of the physics behind our research. I also like that we are given the responsibility of running the experiment and the time to make mistakes, which are always great ways of learning especially in the sciences!

Can you talk about the skills you are learning and why they are important to you?

By working in Professor Noel’s lab, I have been exposed to many different aspects of research, from computational, experimental work necessary for studying quantum phenomena to understanding the electronics and other machinery we use, which is equally important. As someone exploring physics research as a possible career path, this has been invaluable. It has also given me greater appreciation for the process of science, which can sometimes mean spending a day testing out hypothesis and realizing that it makes little change to the experiment or gives poor data. It requires a lot of patience and hard work but is certainly worthwhile in the end!