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NMSU sophomore wins award from American Physical Society for outstanding research

Release Date: 25 Apr 2022
NMSU sophomore wins award from American Physical Society for outstanding research

All scholars strive to be recognized for their research. For New Mexico State University student Haley Woolf, that recognition has come early.

“I am a sophomore this year so it’s kind of exciting that I got kind of ahead in my second year.” Woolf said “It definitely seems like I’m making a difference and going down the right path.”

Woolf’s paper titled “Optical and x-ray characterization of Ge-Sn alloy on GaAs” has been named the Ken Hass Outstanding Student Paper by the American Physical Society (APS) Forum on Industrial and Applied Physics (FIAP). Hass was the director of the physics department at the Ford Motor Company and chair of FIAP in 2003. The APS established this award when he passed away to recognize outstanding research by students in industrial and applied physics.

Woolf’s paper will be featured on the APS website along with past winners of the award. Woolf was honored at the annual FIAP business meeting held in Chicago as part of the APS March meeting. Woolf and her fellow physics researchers from NMSU were invited to have dinner with the FIAP leadership following the award ceremony.

Stefan Zollner, NMSU physics professor and department head, nominated Woolf’s paper for the award together with Matthew Kim, president of QuantTera, a small research company in Tempe, AZ, who provided the material for this research and set the research goals. Woolf presented her work at the APS conference in Chicago.

“The research in my group is funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Zoller said. “The Air Force is interested in infrared sensors to detect missiles and other objects in space. Current sensors are expensive and heavy and have high power consumption, making their operation in space very costly. Germanium-tin alloys have the potential to be much cheaper and therefore the Air Force supports further development of this materials system. Of course, the Air Force is also interested in the education of future government scientists to work at federal laboratories.”

Woolf, a New Mexico native from Truth or Consequences and salutatorian at Hot Springs High School in 2020, is studying engineering physics with a concentration in aerospace engineering. Her research began after she started working in the NMSU physics department’s Optics & Ellipsometry lab.

“It’s based off of ellipsometry and x-ray diffraction which studies the materials on a microscopic level, like the atoms and everything.” Woolf explained. “Basically, I was given a sample by a company, a telecommunications company, and I was supposed to find the tin content in the germanium using x-ray diffraction.” 

“I invited Haley Woolf to join my group as an undergraduate researcher because I recognized her talent when she was a student in my first-year physics class, Zoller said. “She worked on her research during the entire 2021 summer and diligently learnt the operation and performance of two different instruments (x-ray diffraction and spectroscopic ellipsometry). She truly has become an expert with these two instruments and has been able to mentor other undergraduate and graduate students in their operation.”

After the announcement of her APS award, many people have reached out to congratulate Woolf on her work.

“The attention has been very exciting, definitely,” she said. “I did get a lot of help through my peers and my coworkers. It’s all very exciting.”

The APS recognition also came with a $1,000 award.

“That award is very helpful especially with college,” Woolf said. “My paper has led a lot of people in the same field to come up to me and talk to me about what they are interested in and what they know about in the subject, which is very helpful.”

Haley Woolf hopes to continue her research this summer, either at NMSU or at a government lab like the White Sands Missile Range.

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