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To kick off the summer a group of students from Bloomsburg University’s Department of Environmental, Geographical, and Geological Sciences spent three weeks in California's Mojave Desert. The adventurous learning experience was a part of the department’s new Special Topics in Field Geology course — designed to give students an opportunity to observe a wide variety of earth processes, apply their knowledge and reinforce skills in geological observation and interpretation. 

By participating in this intense, field-based course, 13 students got a first-hand encounter with the geology and environmental issues of the western United States. Led by faculty Chris Whisner, Jennifer Whisner and Cynthia Venn, the group roughed it at rustic campsites, grilled trout caught in mountain streams, worked on field notebooks until late in the evening and endured rain, snow, hail and 116-degree heat.

At the same time, the group said it marveled at the mining impacts, stunning geology, and complex water resource issues they encountered on their 1,800-mile trek.  

Each student had opportunities to show off their knowledge through lecturing at two stops, while faculty displayed the accompanying posters. Other highlights:

  • several sites at Mono Lake, Owen’s Lake, LA Aqueduct, Hoover Dam, Ash Meadows showcased many of the ideas students studied in Water Resources Management and Ground Hydrology
  • students were assigned to sketch an unfamiliar landscape and identify as many features as they could, based on the trip. Most students were able to pick out most of the features (fault scarps and fault-block mountains, volcanoes, alluvial fans, stream-carved valleys, springs, glacial features, intrusive and extrusive igneous rocks, and sedimentary rocks) from their viewpoint across the valley.

According to Jennifer Whisner, up until that point the student didn’t really realize how much they had learned in the week or so they’d been out there!

In their final synthesis paper, nearly every student noted that actually seeing mile-high mountains, volcanoes, earthquake scars, picturesque landscapes carved by alpine glaciers and rushing water, and irrigation in one of the most water-starved parts of the U.S. helped them better understand concepts they had discussed in class, and better grasp the scale of features they had seen only in textbook diagrams.

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More than 50 research projects and presentations involving nearly 100 students within the College of Science and Technology were on display and presented at the end of the spring semester during Research and Scholarship Day.

Among the variety of research topics included the using remote sensing techniques to analyze vegetation, sampling residential water outside the Marcellus Shale region and using Google mapping to measure the effectiveness of sand dune stabilization.

Seven students in the College of Science and Technology have spent the past five months collaborating with John Huckans, assistant professor of physics and engineering technology, and Xin, professor of physics and engineering technology, to continue building Bloomsburg University’s UltraColdBloom. The purpose of this laboratory is to trap and laser cool rubidium-87 atoms to sub-Doppler temperatures (below 140 K). Rubidium-87 has only one valence electron, and therefore behaves simply when interacting with light. 

When illuminated at the proper wavelength, rubidium-87’s valence electron jumps from the 5s ground state to the 5p excited state. If excited to the maximum energy state of the upper 5p manifold, the electron can only decay back to the initial 5s ground state, due to selection rules. This is called a cycling transition. However, improper polarization of the exciting light permits a leakage to a lower level of the upper 5p manifold.  Thus, a second “repump” laser pumps the improperly decayed 5s electrons to another upper stretched state, which may then spontaneously decay back to the correct 5s ground state. 

Our repump laser was home-built during the summer of 2013 by Rachel Livingston using a laser diode hand-picked for 780 nm. We use a modified Littrow configuration with a tunable extended cavity employing the back facet of the laser diode and a diffraction grating as the mode build-up cavity. Good control of this laser is necessary, because a lock to a stable and precise wavelength of ~790 nm is needed for the experiment. The entire team is involved in this effort.  Dan is working on a technique to rapidly characterize Gaussian beam waists using a CCD camera and statistical software. 

Steve is developing sophisticated software (using LabVIEW) to synchronously control all of the equipment we are building and assembling with microsecond precision.  Josh and Nick have been involved in creating the electronics to shutter the laser beams and control the current to the repump laser.  Rachel, Matt, and Devon have been fine-tuning the repump laser and setting up the optics for locking the laser. The locking of the repump laser uses a technique called Doppler-free saturated absorption spectroscopy.

The students have developed a wide range of experimental skills and knowledge in several areas of physics, including optics, electronics, mechanics, and quantum mechanics. The team expects to begin science experiments later this year.

UltraColdBloom Atom Trappers: Front (L-R): Professor Xin, Rachel Livingston, Devon Perkins, Matt GIft, Nick Hitcho. Back (L-R): Steve Zosh, Dan McDonald, Josh Halbfoerster, Professor Huckans

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