Meet a Quantum Science Graduate Student
February 11, 2021
Quantum researchers explore interactions between particles and energy at atomic and subatomic scales, dimensions at least a million times smaller than the width of a human hair. Learning about these interactions and developing ways to control their behavior will revolutionize technology in communications, sensing, computing, and modeling, giving rise to new industries, capabilities and products that will improve our daily lives.
Audrey Eshun, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan, works with her advisor, Dr. Theodore Goodson, III, on techniques to image delicate samples, such as living cells, without damaging them. With NSF funding (Chemistry Grants 2004076, 1836374, and 1607949), they built setups to measure properties such as absorption and fluorescence of molecules and biological samples with low intensity quantum entangled beams. With these methods, their lab has built a new laser-based instrument called a quantum entanglement microscope that generates high resolution images. We had the opportunity to interview Audrey about her life as a graduate student:
How would you describe your research in a Tweet?
I use lasers to generate quantum light as entangled photon pairs, and through different detection and experimental methods, I use these quantum pairs to measure the photophysical properties of molecules so we can form a greater understanding of these materials.
What is the coolest thing you have done lately as a grad student? Why did it excite you?
I think the coolest thing would definitely be building a new optical setup. There are many challenges, but it's exciting building a working experiment where there wasn't one before.
What has surprised you most about doing research?
I was surprised by how many other skills research equips you with; like writing, communication, teaching, interpersonal skills, and even learning procurement practices.
What’s your favorite snack for a long day of research?
Almonds and cashews are my favorite, but also whatever surprise snacks the optics companies send with orders.
Describe a time that you failed in research and how you overcame it.
Experiments don't always work, regardless of the amount of work you put in and that is something I've learnt throughout my PhD. I have had experiments fail and had to step back, process what I did, go back to the literature and find ways to improve my experiments. I've found the best way I overcome failure is to not give up, analyze my process and keep trying.
What is your STEM Spark story - what got you interested in science?
While my mother is an engineer and not a scientist, she showed me from an early age that women can thrive in technical fields, and nurtured a love in math, science and problem solving in me that led me to my PhD today.
What was your favorite kids’ science show?
The Magic School Bus! Ms. Frizzle made thinking about science so much fun and it was great to see different kids enjoying learning about science with her.
What scientific question would you most like to answer?
Although I have moved away from this question with my current research, I think the scientific question I would most like to answer is how we can drastically improve affordable, efficient energy forms, such as organic photovoltaics for solar cells.
What’s your science dream job?
I'm not yet sure what my dream science job is, but I know it will be the one that gives me the most fulfillment.
- Video: Science Nation episode on “Quantum entanglement microscopes advancing chemistry, medicine, materials science and more,” featuring Audrey and her advisor
- Video: The Quantum Future – A Conversation with Experts on Quantum Technologies
- Interested in NSF Quantum Research? Read more here.
The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.