So, first off, let me start with a bit of my academic history. I graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Physics from the University of Arkansas in 2004. I began the Physics Doctoral program at the University of Colorado in Fall of the same year. For those of you who can count (this doesn’t include me; I did this calculation four times on my fingers before getting it right), that means I am in my seventh academic year of graduate studies. This is really quite a lot of years. The Graduate School tells you that the “standard” time for a doctorate is six years; however, very few of my classmates have achieved this, so I don’t feel like a total loser. However, it’s definitely time to get on with things.

For the first academic year I was a Teaching Assistant. Then in Summer 2005 I began working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a Department of Commerce research lab that is just down the street from the university. I am in a joint program between the two institutions that allows me to do my research at the lab while still a student at the university. I think this arrangement is awesome, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity. NIST scientists do world-class research related to fundamental standards and cutting-edge technology, and we even boast a handful of Nobel Laureates.

In the beginning, I studied precise measurement of time and frequency. Your first vocabulary word of the year is “metrology,” which means precise measurement of a given quantity. Time and frequency are the most accurately measured quantities in the universe; we can measure fluctuations in a second to the seventeen decimal place: that is, 0.00000000000000001.  This is quite amazing! What amazes me is that technology needs this kind of precision, and even better.

So, for the first four years at NIST I learned measurement techniques; however, measurement techniques alone does not a thesis make. What I needed was something to measure with my measurement skills. This is pretty much the reason my journey was taking longer than usual. My boss and I realized I needed a more substantial project that would make use of this skill while focusing on an actual project. In February of 2009, I moved upstairs and began working with the Optical Frequency Measurements group on a joint project with my previous group. Basically, this group generates the ultra-stable time and frequency signals that we like to measure. So, for the last two years I have been working on my current project which will comprise my thesis research.

In subsequent posts, I will set up some technical background for time and frequency signals and metrology and describe my actual project. Hopefully I can describe it in a way that’s clear for everyone to understand, and hopefully interesting, too! I’ll write a little about myself, too, since I’m a real person behind all these big words that even I struggle to understand.

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