ECE Experimental Research Continues in Creative Ways

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Written by ECE Regents' Professor Tom Gaylord

To respond to the escalating COVID-19 pandemic and to keep faculty, staff, and students safe, Georgia Tech implemented a “Research Ramp Down Plan” that closed all on-campus research laboratories on March 19. “Work-from-home” became the necessary mode of operation. Theoretical and computer-based research have adjusted to the shutdown without major difficulties. However, experimental laboratory-based research largely came to a halt. 

In this setting, clever students in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) are coming up with “work-around” ways of continuing their experimental research. An example of this is the ongoing research being conducted by Ji Ye (JC) Chun. Chun is a fourth-year senior majoring in electrical engineering and is transitioning into the master’s degree program thesis option. She is graduating with a 4.0 average and is supported by a President’s Undergraduate Research Award. 

Chun’s research in the Optics Laboratory involves quantitative phase imaging of biological cells. This overall area of work is supported by a new National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to ECE Regents’ Professor Tom Gaylord to investigate the highest possible resolution (in space and in refractive index) that can be achieved in imaging of phase objects such as optical fibers and living cells. A crucial phase of this research is the preparation of the samples for microscopic imaging. 

With the disruption of on-campus research, Chun has moved a few small pieces of equipment and some critical materials to her nearby apartment. With a new small portable microscope purchased with NSF funds by Gaylord, she is continuing her sample preparation research. She is assisted by Lucky, her faithful dog. Lucky gets excited every time Chun starts working in the kitchen, thinking that she is preparing food. But alas, Chun is only developing a protocol for sample preparation, not making a tasty treat to be shared. 

“The innovative approaches of our students are overcoming some of the pandemic setbacks,” Gaylord said. “Our hats are off to JC for her dedication to research during these challenging times and for setting an example for others to emulate.”

Photo caption: Ji Ye (JC) Chun continues her experimental research in her apartment.


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