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Cyrus (Ziggy) Bjurlin Receives SPS-AAPT-ALPhA Award

Cyrus (Ziggy) Bjurlin to receive the 2024 SPS-AAPT-ALPhA Undergraduate Award

Cyrus (Ziggy) Bjurlin

The SPS-AAPT-ALPhA Undergraduate Award for Outstanding Laboratory Development was established to recognize outstanding work in the development of an advanced laboratory apparatus/experiment by an undergraduate physics student at his/her home institution within the United States. National recognition of these projects will encourage their proliferation and help build the next generation of experimental physicists and educators. The award is only conferred if the work by the student or students is of exceptional quality, worthy of a national award.

Cyrus (Ziggy) Bjurlin, a physics and math major at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, College of Science and Engineering, School of Physics and Astronomy is the 2024 SPS-AAPT-ALPhA awardee. He will receive a plaque, up to $1,000 from SPS for travel to the American Association of Physics Teachers Summer Meeting in 2024 to present his work and to receive the award, and a $500 honorarium. The faculty supervisor, Teresa (Tracy) Chmiel, Assistant Professor, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Minnesota, will receive a citation and up to $500 from AAPT to travel to the same AAPT meeting. Finally, the department will receive a $500 award from ALPhA to enhance its advanced laboratory.

Under the guidance of Prof. Chmiel, Bjurlin redesigned an existing Hong-Ou-Mandel (HOM) Interference Experiment for their Methods of Experimental Physics class, a capstone project-based laboratory course in which they work on a single experimental project for the entire semester. The HOM is a demonstration of two-photon (nonclassical) interference and is characterized a dip in the coincidences measured at the outputs of the beamsplitter. While this is fundamental demonstration of a purely quantum mechanical phenomena, it is difficult to implement in the undergraduate laboratory due to the need for very careful alignment. Prof. Chmiel pointed out in her letter of recommendation that all of the students who had attempted to do this experiment in their Methods of Experimental Physics class, including Bjurlin, failed. This led Bjurlin to completely redesign the experiment using a fiber-optics based design. With this new design, they are able measure the characteristic dip and to disassemble and reassemble the setup in under two hours. This makes this experiment much more approachable. Beyond that, Bjurlin also was able to vary the coherence length of the interference by changing the temperature of the internal crystal which down converts the photons that are used in the experiment, a new addition to the undergraduate laboratory.

Honorable Mention
Alejandra Velasquez and Isabel Hardy are recognized with honorable mentions. The honorable mentions for the SPS-AAPT-ALPhA Award, will receive a citation and a $300 student travel award to the AAPT Summer Meeting in 2024 to present their work.

Hardy and Velasquez are Biochemistry/Biophysics majors at Amherst College and are both scheduled to graduate in May 2024. Under the guidance of Prof. Ashley Carter, they worked on three projects. The first was to build a total internal reflection fluorescence (TIRF) microscope for their sophomore optics lab. They employed a novel approach where students would work through a sequence of increasingly complex microscopes, starting with a single lens and understanding how it worked and then increasing the complexity until they had a working TIRF microscope. Along the way, they could construct as many as seven different microscopes and see the advantages and limitations of each. A key aspect of the sophomore optics lab at Amherst is that its laboratory component makes use of projects to develop skills that transfer into the research laboratory. The second project was to assess these projects in light of the 2014 AAPT laboratory learning goals. The final project was to revive an optical trapping experiment that had been used in the an acoustics course and they plan to make it part of their biophysics laboratory course.

About AAPT
The AAPT is the premier national organization and authority on physics and physical science education with members worldwide. Our mission is to advance the greater good through physics education. We provide our members with many opportunities for professional development, communication, and student enrichment. We serve the larger community through a variety of programs and publications. AAPT was founded in 1930 and is headquartered in the American Center for Physics in College Park, Maryland.