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Research Topics

 

Below is a list of research topics supported by the AFRL. Use the filters and keyword search below to find research topics of interest. You can apply for up to 3 topics on your application.


   

 

Scholars are encouraged to contact any mentors whose projects they find of interest. To contact the mentor, use the link included at the conclusion of each project description.

 

Cold Atom Experimental Control and Data Acquisition
Fall 2018
Mentor: Spencer E Olson, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.
Our laboratory is developing inertial navigation sensors and clocks using cold-atom technology.  The relevant experiments and prototypes for cold-atom sensors typically require specialized timing-control hardware, software, and computer integration.  We are developing means to utilize micro-controllers, low-power computers, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA), and open-source software for data acquisition and experimental control.  The assigned project will depend on the student's interest and experience, but could include micro-controller programming, FPGA programming, low-power computer-experiment integration, and/or development and testing of new cold-atom control routines/hardware for use in future or current experiments.
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Cold Atom Experimental Control and Data Acquisition
Fall 2018
Mentor: Spencer E Olson, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate
Our laboratory is developing inertial navigation sensors and clocks using cold-atom technology.  The relevant experiments and prototypes for cold-atom sensors typically require specialized timing-control hardware, software, and computer integration.  We are developing means to utilize micro-controllers, low-power computers, field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA), and open-source software for data acquisition and experimental control.  The assigned project will depend on the student's interest and experience, but could include micro-controller programming, FPGA programming, low-power computer-experiment integration, and/or development and testing of new cold-atom control routines/hardware for use in future or current experiments.
Contact mentor

Cold Atom Sources
Fall 2018
Mentor: Matthew Squires, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate
Cold atoms are used to make precision measurements of rotation, acceleration, time (think atomic clocks), etc.  Atoms are typically cooled using laser cooling techniques to temperatures less than 100 micro Kelvin to reduce thermal noise and increase measurement time.  We are investigating new cold atoms sources that either reduce the size, weight, and power (SWAP) requirements of laser cooled sources or that can cool atoms without lasers.  Reducing SWAP is an important considering for making compact devices that can be transitioned from the laboratory into real world applications.  Cooling atoms without laser opens the possibility of using atoms that currently cannot be cooled but have properties that are of scientific and/or technical interest.   The assigned project will depend on the student’s interest and experience.
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Cold Atom Sources
Fall 2018
Mentor: Matthew Squires, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: High School
Cold atoms are used to make precision measurements of rotation, acceleration, time (think atomic clocks), etc.  Atoms are typically cooled using laser cooling techniques to temperatures less than 100 micro Kelvin to reduce thermal noise and increase measurement time.  We are investigating new cold atoms sources that either reduce the size, weight, and power (SWAP) requirements of laser cooled sources or that can cool atoms without lasers.  Reducing SWAP is an important considering for making compact devices that can be transitioned from the laboratory into real world applications.  Cooling atoms without laser opens the possibility of using atoms that currently cannot be cooled but have properties that are of scientific and/or technical interest.   The assigned project will depend on the student’s interest and experience.
Contact mentor

Effect of ytterbium and bismuth on the luminescence of an erbium doped glass
Fall 2018
Mentor: Leanne Joan Henry, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Masters, Ph.D.
Bismuth and ytterbium as co-dopants have great potential to enhance the luminescence of erbium in a glass. Increased luminescence of erbium would help increase the power level of lasers at 1550 nm.  The purpose of this project is to study the effect of bismuth and ytterbium as co-dopants on the intensity of luminescence from a glass.  The concentrations of bismuth and ytterbium will be varied in order to optimize the luminescence from a glass.  As part of this project, multiple samples of bismuth, ytterbium, and erbium co-doped glasses will be prepared.  Following preparation, each glass will be fully characterized as to absorption spectra, luminescence spectra, radiative lifetime, on-off gain, and unsaturable absorption.  Aside from the characterization, preparation of the glass involves weighing out the raw materials, melting the glass in a crucible, annealing a glass as well as polishing samples for analysis.
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Experimental Validation of a General Wave Optics Propagation Scaling Law
Fall 2018
Mentor: Matthew A Cooper, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate
The General far-field wave propagation scaling law developed by Shakir et al. is compared to experimental results. The primary benefit of the developed General Scaling Law (GSL) is that it includes more degrees of freedom in estimating the far-field irradiance pattern over standard scaling law approaches. More specifically, the GSL includes such features as a source that is neither constant in irradiance nor modeled as a simple shape due to the nature of using multiple beamlets as a source or obscurations within the source. Gaussian beams with obscuration, both as a single beam and as an array of beams are analyzed.  

The interested student will modify the current GUI-based MATLAB code used in these experiments to incorporate additional validation efforts.  The student will also help set up the optical experiments, take measurements, and perform and analysis of the results.
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Investigation of Satellite Imagery Post-Processing
Fall 2018
Mentor: Lee A Kann, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Upper-level Undergraduate
Starfire Optical Range performs both daytime & nighttime satellite acquisition, producing very different quality imagery.  Daytime acquisition of satellites with electro-optical systems is a challenging problem that must be solved in order to perform 24/7 space situational awareness.  The technical challenge is to pick out a dim object against a bright background.  The proposed program (part 1) would look to image processing methods in order to improve the current daytime acquisition capabilities and eventually inform the system design and specifications for any future acquisition systems. Image processing methods would focus on automated target identification, discriminating between stars and satellites using correlation image analysis and/or image stacking to improve detection accuracy. Nighttime acquisition produces imagery with more detail and structure, where post-processing techniques are then applied in order to produce the best possible resolution imagery as a final product.  Multi-Frame Blind Deconvolution (MFBD) techniques are applied to streams of imagery, using a sliding window, to produce greatly improved reconstructions.  Reconstructions typically have detail hidden within the imagery and the dynamic range needs to be manipulated to pull out the detail, including applying image depth cropping & gamma correction techniques.  A portion of this process has been automated, but the final portion (cropping and gamma correction) need to be optimized to produce the best possible outcome with no human intervention.  Other techniques, such as edge sharpening, will also be investigated for even further image enhancement.  The end goal of this portion of the project (part 2) will be to automatic processing of satellite imagery from start to finish (MFBD, further enhancement techniques to bring out detail, producing AVI movies).
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Learning algorithms in closed loop systems
Fall 2018
Mentor: Robert L. Johnson, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: High School
The Starfire Optical Range has recently implemented simple learning algorithms into closed loop systems.  The scholar will investigate other learning algorithms, and recommend options to increase performance, efficiency, or stability within the closed loop system. The scholar will test the selected algorithms in simulation, and see the best candidate algorithm implemented either in a lab based system, or on the Starfire Optical Range 3.5-m telescope.
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Photoluminescence studies of semiconductors for space
Fall 2018
Mentor: Elizabeth H Steenbergen, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Ph.D.
For devices made of semiconductor materials, such as transistors, solar cells, or detectors, to operate in a  space environment, they must be free of defects, high performing, and reliable.  This project involves characterizing the optical properties of infrared materials for space applications using photoluminescence.  The photoluminescence characteristics versus temperature and excitation intensity reveal the contributions of radiative and non-radiative recombination and average phonon and activation energies.  These values are used to assess the maturity of the material for the desired operating conditions.
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Precision magnetic traps for atomic physics.
Fall 2018
Mentor: Brian Kasch, Space Vehicles
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Lower-level Undergraduate, Upper-level Undergraduate
Controlled magnetic fields are critical to the operation of confined atom interferometers, and associated inertial sensors. This project involves further developing in-house capabilities for laser etching so-called 'atom chips'. We use inexpensive DBC substrates: aluminum nitride with a layer of copper bonded to each face. By laser cutting specific wire shapes into the copper, we can create well-controlled magnetic fields simply by varying the applied currents. These chips already enable a variety of experiments involving ultracold atoms, and were used to create a Bose-Einstein condensate. Our goal is to progress to more advanced structures and processes, carefully characterize the laser mill cuts, and reduce the need for post-processing due to trace defects.
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Sodium Layer Density Study
Fall 2018
Mentor: Robert L. Johnson, Directed Energy
Location: Kirtland
Academic Level: Upper-level Undergraduate
The Starfire Optical Range at Kirtland AFB, NM uses large telescopes with adaptive optics to image satellites LEO to GEO using a sodium beacon. The beacon illuminates a layer of sodium approximately 90 km in altitude, which is approximately 10 km thick, but sodium density varies throughout the day and throughout the year and by geographic location. Students would research sodium density at Kirtland AFB. Historical sodium data will be provided and analysis of sodium density trends at the SOR site will be required. After completing the analysis of sodium over Kirtland AFB, if time permits, an analysis of worldwide sodium density at various telescope sites will be requested. The goal is to analyze trends and to provide recommendations on the value of 50-W, 10-W, 15-W sodium beacon technology.
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