Nov 142008

The subject of my PhD research is an atomic defect in diamond, and we primarily use lasers to probe the quantum properties of this “colour centre”. To glean more clues, we change the environment of our samples by placing them in magnetic fields and electric fields and various temperatures.

One other variable that we can alter is called “strain”, and to increase the strain we squeeze a diamond sample very hard. Using compressed air and a piston mechanism to get mechanical advantage (remember P=F/A), we put a pressure on the diamond that is about 10,000 times greater than that in an ordinary car tyre.

Cracked diamond sampleIt may not be too surprising, then, that I broke a diamond earlier this week. Actually, I wasn’t aware of it at the time; during my experiment the sample lies deeply inaccessible inside a cryostat that keeps it at a temperature close to absolute zero (-273 degrees celsius). However, the discovery that my crystal had split into two certainly explained some very anomalous results I had been recording.
Cracked diamond sampleCracked diamond sample

Aug 152008

Last night I participated in Physics Students Uncovered, a science communication challenge that kicked off National Science Week in Canberra. The goal was for five selected PhD students to present their physics research in 10 minutes, and keep it accessible and interesting for an “intelligent, but non-technical” audience.

It was exciting to present in the Shine Dome, home of the Australian Academy of Science, and I was very pleased with how my talk went. Under the pressure, I got a bit too excited with the introductory conceptual elements of my presentation and had to rush the second half more than I would have liked. However, I managed to get a special commendation as second-place. A fellow student from the Laser Physics Centre of our Research School, Amrita Prasad, gave a spectacular presentation on all-optical signal processing and won the $2000 prize.

As a publicity-oriented event, Physics Students Uncovered made the second page of the Canberra Times. I was particularly excited to have an image of me holding a very large diamond (fake) just over the page from the highlights of our Australian Olympic swimmers! Here are photos of the front page and the second page so you can see what the article looked like on paper.