Hope College is part of a group of colleges and universities that are working together to provide their undergraduates with new opportunities in laser research through a shared grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Hope, Calvin and Kalamazoo colleges, and the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, will all share, round-robin, a transportable pulse laser system being purchased through a $241,000 grant from the NSF. The four schools are partnering with Purdue University, which will host workshops and provide technical support.
Hope's involvement is being coordinated by Dr. William F. Polik, who is the Edward and Elizabeth Hofma Professor of Chemistry at Hope. Polik and the Hope students working with him will use the new equipment to measure how reactant molecules combine to form new product molecules. They will also be testing theories of chemical reactivity which can be modeled with Hope's new super computer.
Polik describes the work at Hope as fundamental research, providing the groundwork upon which other scientists can build.
"We look at the basic rules that describe how molecules combine," he said. "Once we have the rules, scientists can apply them in a variety of ways."
Polik began working with lasers as a graduate student in 1982, and has involved more than 50 Hope students in his own laser-based research since joining the Hope faculty in 1988. The new instrument will complement the laser system currently in his laboratory.
"We will extend our on-going projects in new directions that we otherwise wouldn't be able to do," he said.
According to Polik, each of the four institutions is responsible for developing a different aspect of the laser and its attendant equipment, with the laser being available first to Calvin beginning this summer. The first related support equipment will arrive at Hope this summer, with the laser following in two years, matching Polik's timetable for the experiments he intends to run.
Beyond the expansion of research opportunities for faculty and undergraduate students alike, Polik especially appreciates the cooperative nature of the project and the connections it will build.
"It allows faculty and students with similar research interests to interact with each other and share our results and share our excitement for science," he said. "Through the relationship with Purdue, it also enhances opportunities for our students to subsequently graduate research at a university. So the NSF is supporting not only first-rate research, but also the development of future scientists."