Chemistry research lab receives scientific instrumentation from NASA
St. Olaf College Assistant Professor of Chemistry Rodrigo Sanchez-Gonzalez’s lab recently received a collection of scientific equipment from the NASA Langley Research Center. Consisting of more than 50 items to facilitate research in the area of laser and optical diagnostics, this equipment will increase the research potential of the lab, allowing students to perform increasingly complex experiments in pursuit of their own research goals and those of the lab.
The Laboratory of Energy and Advanced Diagnostics (LEAD), Sanchez-Gonzalez’s research lab at St. Olaf, focuses on the application of optical techniques to study gaseous flows and energy transfer processes, relying heavily on instrumentation development. The more than half a million dollars’ worth of scientific equipment from NASA will significantly enhance the research team’s ability to study these processes.
“This equipment comes from the Advanced Measurements Systems Branch at the NASA Langley Research Center, transferred from the laboratory of a colleague, Paul Danehy,” explains Sanchez-Gonzalez. “The internationally recognized work of Paul Danehy at NASA Langley focuses on the development of laser-based measurement techniques to study hypersonic wind tunnel flows and combustion environments to advance NASA’s space exploration mission.”
Jose Ramirez ’24 has been working in the LEAD lab this year, synthesizing nanocrystals from a lead bromide solution. This work will be reinforced by the addition of increasingly precise instruments. “For future uses,” he says, “we will be able to use new spectrometers and camera systems to further the depths of the research being done.” This also builds on the work done by students like Jonathan Rustad ’21 using a variety of light sources to gather the absorbance and fluorescence properties of these nanostructures.
If that all sounds impressive, it’s all in a day’s work for the students in Sanchez-Gonzalez’s lab. “Students at St. Olaf will use this instrumentation, such as lasers, spectrometers, and camera systems, to do exciting research and build practical skills in a multidisciplinary context,” says Sanchez-Gonzalez. “As they learn to conduct experiments, students become proficient in data acquisition methods that include imaging and associated data analysis methodologies.”
Students at St. Olaf will use this instrumentation, such as lasers, spectrometers, and camera systems, to do exciting research and build practical skills in a multidisciplinary context.Assistant Professor of Chemistry Rodrigo Sanchez-Gonzalez
Anders Bergsten ’22 began this research during the spring semester and is working in the lab over the summer as part of St. Olaf’s Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) program. The goal of this program is to provide undergraduate research experience to St. Olaf students who work alongside professors from a variety of disciplines on research projects.
Bergsten explains that the new equipment will make a big difference in the kind of research the team can accomplish, and he is specifically looking forward to the applications of new equipment to his work synthesizing nanocrystals in a solid matrix and observing their optical response to different temperatures. As he looks toward graduate studies in physical chemistry, this kind of research experience has helped him narrow his professional interests while developing new skills.
Likewise, Rustad credits this research in part with his admission to a Ph.D. program in aeronautical and astronautical engineering at Purdue University. This is one of the goals of LEAD, explains Sanchez-Gonzalez. “Participation in research experiences, particularly early in their careers, motivates our students to persist in STEM fields, build confidence, and appreciate the value of studying basic sciences. Work at LEAD enhances the participation of both the professor and students in competitive research, resulting in presentation of their findings at national and international conferences, potentially sharing authorship of resulting publications, and consequently enabling access to additional research grant opportunities.”
Participation in research experiences, particularly early in their careers, motivates our students to persist in STEM fields, build confidence, and appreciate the value of studying basic sciences.Assistant Professor of Chemistry Rodrigo Sanchez-Gonzalez
Research relationships like these — between St. Olaf undergraduates and faculty, in collaboration with the broader academic community — offer students chances to work with world-class research tools just down the hall from their classrooms. Those same relationships can then make students more competitive for prestigious graduate programs and increase their overall chances of having rewarding long-term careers. This gives St. Olaf students ample opportunities to get ahead in their chosen fields, even before they leave the Hill.