REU: Lasers and Optics

Research making use of Lasers and Optics

For information contact

Dr. Kees Uiterwaal

Associate Professor, Physics & Astronomy

See Projects
Research in the laboratory of Uiterwaal. The frequency-tunable TOPAS laser is set to a blue wavelength to find resonances in aromatic molecules.
Research in the laboratory of Uiterwaal. The frequency-tunable TOPAS laser is set to a blue wavelength to find resonances in aromatic molecules.

Who should apply

Related fields

  • Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Chemistry


Participation in the Nebraska Summer Research Program is limited to students who meet the following criteria:
  • U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident
  • Current undergraduate with at least one semester of coursework remaining before obtaining a bachelor's degree

See Eligibility for more information.

How to apply

Follow the application steps to submit the following materials.

About the Program

The REU Site “Lasers and Optics” offers research in physics, in chemistry, and in engineering, with a specific focus on lasers and optics, a field that continues to bloom. We offer students a wide range of relevant and topical research activities, including work with laser-driven multi-fiber nanotip electron sources, imaging of femtosecond molecular dynamics, generation of femtosecond X-ray pulses, spectroscopy, metamaterials for photonic and optical applications, propagation of laser pulses in liquids, programmable spatial light modulation, and femtosecond laser surface processing. Unique to this site, suitable student projects will be selected for the creation of virtual or augmented reality projects.

Students will attend seminars and meetings to intensify motivation and deepen understanding, and to assist in orientation to the job market. We will tour external institutions and companies where scientists work. Students will write a research paper, give an oral presentation, and present a poster. They will participate in a mock symposium. They will attend workshops on diversity/inclusion, authorship, financial literacy, scientific writing, and networking. They will be guided in GRE taking, discuss graduate school selection, and be assisted in the preparation of application materials.

A variety of informal, social group activities is planned (also with participants of other Summer Research Programs at the University of Nebraska).


  • Competitive stipend: $6,000
  • Suite-style room and meal plan
  • Travel expenses to and from Lincoln
  • Campus parking and/or bus pass
  • Full access to the Campus Recreation Center and campus library system
  • Wireless internet access

Learn more about academic and financial benefits.


  • Department seminars and presentations
  • Professional development workshops (e.g., applying to graduate school, taking the GRE)
  • Welcome picnic
  • Day trip to Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium
  • Outdoor adventures
  • Research symposium

Mentors and Projects

Dr. Herman Batelaan Department of Physics and Astronomy (Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics)

Ghost Imaging

A team of two students will work on ghost imaging (one funded by REU and the other by local funds). One student will work on a laser-driven multi-fiber nanotip source in collaboration with Prof. Passian from Oak Ridge National Lab using single nanotip fibers that we have recently developed. Computational ghost imaging relies on a programmable source, which is what the multi-fiber tip will provide. The other student will perform the accompanying computer simulation, and computer control of the source.

Dr. Martin Centurion Department of Physics and Astronomy (Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics)

Ultrafast Dynamics

The Ultrafast Dynamics group focusing on understanding and controlling the conversion of light into chemical energy and heat at the molecular level. Upon absorption of a photon, a molecule undergoes structural transformations on the femtosecond scale, which lead to the breaking and making of chemical bonds, changes in the molecular geometry and triggering of different vibrational modes. In order to understand these transformations, it is essential to be able observe them on their natural time scales.

Dr. Matthias Fuchs Department of Physics and Astronomy (Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics)

Next Generation X-ray Lightsource

The research of the Fuchs group is focused on the development of what might be called the next generation X-ray lightsource. The generated X-ray pulses have an ultrashort duration of only a few femtoseconds (1 fs = 10−15 s). The combination of X-ray wavelength and femtosecond pulse duration enables the direct observation of dynamics on atomic time- and length-scales. This allows for example the investigation of atomic rearrangement in chemical reactions or the atomic motion in solids in real time.

Dr. Timothy J. Gay Department of Physics and Astronomy (Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics)

Spin-polarized electrons

Prof. Gay’s research uses polarized electrons to study spin-dependent effects in electron-molecule scattering, with targets ranging from chiral polyatomics to H2. In addition, we are developing spin-polarized electron sources based on our recent discovery of fast, multiphoton-induced electron emission from GaAs nanostructures. Such sources have the potential to enable imaging of spin-dependent chemical reactions and magnetic dynamics occurring in the solid-state on femtosecond time scales.

Dr. Alena Moon Department of Chemistry

Light-matter interactions and spectroscopy

Spectroscopy—the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with atoms and molecules—is a ubiquitous tool for probing and understanding molecules and reactions across all molecular sciences. So much so that the American Chemical Society (ACS) has made its use required for undergraduates in accredited chemistry programs (ACS CPT). Though spectroscopy is fundamental to the practice of chemistry and much of STEM, undergraduate education about spectroscopy remains fragmented and limited by the absence of any systematic investigations of how students learn foundational concepts of light-matter interactions and spectroscopy.

Dr. Eva Schubert Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Chiral Heterostructure Nanomaterials for Photonic Applications

The Schubert lab has expertise in metamaterial fabrication, characterization, and optical in-situ growth monitoring. The lab employs bottom-up methods for self-organized growth such as oblique angle deposition (OAD) and atomic layer deposition, and extensively uses in-situ spectroscopic ellipsometry for real time growth monitoring. Metamaterials are particularly of interest for photonic and optical applications in sensors, filters, polarization-sensitive devices and for light harvesting. Si nanospirals have intriguing chiro-optical properties such as the recently observed tunable circular dichroism and optical activity. Small chiro-optical responses and limits in spectral tunability impose obstacles for applicability in devices.

Dr. Kees Uiterwaal Department of Physics and Astronomy (Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics)

Laser Pulse Shaping and Propagation in Liquids, Spatial Light Modulation

We study the interaction of femtosecond laser pulses with matter. This includes ionization of molecules. We also investigate optical vortices: ‘whirling bullets of light’. One of our achievements was the experimental creation of ultrashort optical vortices. We are now exploring the role nodal network learning (Artificial Intelligence) could have in the generation of unusual laser beam profiles. Another new pathway of research is the linear and nonlinear propagation of laser pulses in liquids. One of our detection methods here is the fluorescence of marker dyes in the visible after two-photon absorption (2PA) in the infrared. We use this to characterize our infrared laser pulses, but also to study the interaction of such pulses with the dye, and with the solvent.

Dr. Craig Zuhlke Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Electro-Optics and Functionalized Surfaces

The Center for Electro-Optics and Functionalized Surfaces (CEFS) at UNL has developed techniques to directly functionalize or tailor the surface properties of metals using a technique known as femtosecond laser surface processing (FLSP). With FLSP, the properties of metals are altered by creating self-organized micron and nanoscale surface structures combined with la-ser-induced chemistry changes and subsurface microstructure changes using finely controlled ultra-short laser-matter interactions.