Zafar on plasma diagnostics for nuclear fusion

Zafar in his lab
Zafar in lab working on his experimental setup.

This week we spoke with Abdullah Zafar, whose work focuses on diagnostics of plasma. Zafar discusses how optical spectroscopy can be used to study plasma effects and dynamics, which leads to a more robust understanding of plasma. There is some very interesting and cutting edge engineering at play in Zafar’s work, allowing him to attain extremely high resolution high accuracy spectroscopic results of scans of a plasma field in only two dimensions. Further, we discuss current and future plasma applications, graduate school, and Zafar shares words of advice for those considering or in the early stages of their research career.

References and Resources for this episode:

  1. ITER

Ford on plasma research and nuclear engineering

This week we sat down with Kris Ford to discuss plasma research, higher education, and motivation. Mr. Ford is a P.hD candidate pursuing his doctoral degree in nuclear engineering, specifically plasma research. He discusses the intricacies of his current work, including the ultra high precision fabrication capabilities and the statistical uncertainties related to the methods used. Further, we explore the motivations and challenges of remaining mentally healthy when engaged in high demand work, and some approaches to overcome the challenges associated with such a situation.


  1. 4-START:Fourth State Applications Research Group (Research group Mr. Ford is currently part of)
  2. Mindset: The new psychology of succes by Dr. Carol S. Dweck
  3. Vasimr plasma engine
  4.  Photo Credit: Kris Ford. An oxygen plasma is created, which should have a cylindrical shape due to the powering coil shape. Ionization occurs in the power deposition region. In this case, an ‘orb’ forms however, a phenomenon currently unexplained.


Koshel on Illumination, the Century of the Photon, and Academics

Rothko_Green on Blue_UniversityofArizona_MuseumofArt[Rothko, Green in Blue:]

This week we sat down with Dr. John Koshel, the Associate Dean as the College of Optical Sciences here at the UofA. Dr. Koshel has a long background in optical sciences, ranging from laser based research in graduate school at Rochester to illumination engineering in industry, and most recently as a researcher and Associate Dean. We discuss what illumination engineering is, his current research, the century of the photon and what we can expect in the future from optics, and his perspectives on graduate school and research. We really enjoyed speaking with Dr. Koshel and think that our listeners will get an enormous amount of knowledge and wisdom from this episode.


Relevant material to this episode:

Century of Optics:

As always, we look forward to your feedback! Please comment or email us at

Spires on Optical Fabrication

spire_moveon technologies

This week we sit down with Oliver Spires to discuss optical fabrication. This is a topic often taken for-granted by optical scientists, as optical fabrication is the conversion of a theoretical component to a real and usable piece. Spires discusses techniques and methodologies such as diamond turning and mold pressed optics. Additionally, some of the difficulties and limitations of these methods are covered.

Nerenberg on Bose-Einstein Condensates and Creativity in the Sciences

BEC_DrZachNewman_Defense (Dr. Zach Newman, Dissertation)

This week we sit down with Samuel Nerenberg, a doctoral student whose work focuses on Bose-Einstein Condensates as well as other quantum optic phenomenon. Sam discusses what defines a BEC, the difficulties involved with creating such a state of matter, and what his group is studying in their behavior. Additionally, we discuss the idea of creativity in fields traditionally considered bereft of human expression, namely mathematics and physics. Tune in for a great discussion and we look forward to hearing your feedback as always!


Resources mentioned in this weeks episode:

Dr. Cooper-Sood on using Ketamine for Pain Management in Patients with Sickle Cell Anemia

Normal red blood cell and sickle cell. SCIEPRO/Science Photo/Library/Getty Images
Normal red blood cell and sickle cell. SCIEPRO/Science Photo/Library/Getty Images

This week we were extremely fortunate to be able to sit down with Dr. Cooper-Sood, who is researching novel pain management methods in patients who suffer from sickle cell anemia. These patients suffer extreme, chronic life long pain. We learn about the current pain management protocol, which traditionally relies heavily on large opiate dosages, and how ketamine, a disassociate drug that is more commonly known as an animal tranquilizer, may provide an alternative pain management technique. Additionally, Dr. Cooper-Sood discusses some of the unique challenges human based studies carry, and what the future may hold for pain management in such cases. We hope you enjoy and as always we encourage our listeners to comment or email us!

Summitt on Optical Chip Interconnects


In this week’s episode, we sit down with Dr. Chris Summitt to talk about a new fabrication process of a polymer out-of-plane optical coupler by gray-scale lithography. Dr. Summitt discusses the motivation for optical ship interconnects, the limitations on fabrication methods, and his novel technique and results. We additionally discuss the fit of graduate school for students as well as learn some of Dr. Summitts secret techniques for maintaining a healthy balance while a student.

As always we look forward to your feedback and comments!

Grant on Heuristic Characterization of Si-Photonic Switches


This week we sit down with Hannah Grant, whose work focuses on Silicon Photonics. Most recently she has developed and demonstrated a heuristic characterization of Si-Photonic switches. While the technology is extremely impressive, without a way to characterize optical switches limits their viability. We discuss her recent work, the scope and uses of Si-Photonics, and the need for a characterization of optical switches.

For a more detailed description of Hannah Grant’s most recent work, please see:

For background on photonics and Si-Photonic please see:

Photonics: Optical Electronics in Modern Communications by By Amnon Yariv and Pochi Yeh


Momsom on SPECT Imaging


This week we sit down with Neil Momsom, a graduate student whose research focuses on biomedical imaging applications. Neil explains the working concept for a SPECT imaging system. There is discussion covering the system components, theory, noise, and statics. Neil sheds some light on a device we take for granted in medical procedures but which is extremely complex both in the hardware and data processing.


As always, please leave your feedback and comment on todays episode.

Bradley on Spectropolarimetric Imaging Observations


This week we sit down with Dr. Christine Bradley to discuss her doctoral work on spectropolarimetric imaging, which was used to map the polarimetric BRDF of various Earth based zones, an alternative way to thinking about this is a mapping of the reflectance of various common zones on Earth. Dr. Bradley discusses some of the challenges she faced in her work and and outcome of her research. Additionally, we get to hear some excellent tips about getting through research and dissertation writing.

We hope you enjoy this weeks podcast, and as always we encourage our listeners to comment on this weeks episode.