EuroScholar’s Research At Leiden University Published In Respected Physics Journal
“When I went abroad, I wanted to study something I wasn’t comfortable with,” says Sander Zandbergen.
By Stacey Hartmann
GlobaLinks NewsWire editor
It’s not the typical student who uses words like “photonic graphene,” “optical analogue” and “alumina ceramic rods” when describing a great study abroad experience.
But Sander Zandbergen isn’t your typical undergraduate.
When the senior physics major at Case Western Reserve University searched out a study abroad program, he hoped for the usual fun and excitement of living and learning in another country.
“My faculty advisor said studying abroad is one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” Zandbergen says.
But he also didn’t want his time abroad to slow down his academic momentum, which had him on track for a spring 2010 graduation with a near 4.0 grade point average.
So the 22-year-old from Edinboro, Pa., applied and was accepted to the EuroScholars Research Abroad Program, which is designed for advanced undergraduate students and postgraduates looking for an international research experience.
Zandbergen’s EuroScholars program encompassed a language class and an academic research project in quantum optics at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
“I didn’t know anything about the field before I left,” he says. “I’d done a lot of research in particle astrophysics here at Case. When I went abroad, I wanted to study something I wasn’t comfortable with.”
During the first month at Leiden University, he acclimated himself to the local area, campus, lab and materials that would be the focus of his research.
His quantum optics research was supervised by Michiel J. A. de Dood, PhD, an assistant professor at Leiden.
“He had quite an impact on me,” Zandbergen says. “He was very helpful, and he had a knack for conveying ideas in a way I could understand. He was a great adviser, but he did leave me space to work on my own and figure things out.”
Zandbergen’s specific research in Leiden centered on photonic graphene.
“You know what graphite is, it’s what’s in a pencil,” he explains. “Graphene is the two-dimensional form of graphite.”
Graphene is hot in the physics world because there are many possible applications for it, some resulting from the fact that it’s one of the strongest materials ever tested, Zandbergen says.
“We didn’t actually make graphene,” he says. “We made a photonic analogue of actual graphene. We weren’t studying the electrical properties. It was an RF analogue, so instead of thinking about electrons, we were thinking about microwaves.”
As Zandbergen’s time at Leiden wound down, de Dood suggested they submit the results of their research for publication in an academic journal.
The result: The January 2010 publication in the prestigious Physical Review Letters of their research entitled “Experimental Observation of Strong Edge Effects on the Pseudodiffusive Transport of Light in Photonic Graphene.”
With not only academic credit but also a published research project, the likes of which is atypical of undergraduate-level work, Zandbergen’s spring 2009 semester abroad at Leiden University ended up surpassing all he’d hoped for experientially, socially and academically.
“I still don’t believe it actually happened,” he says. “I had the most amazing time. Sometimes I’d be riding my bike to the lab in Leiden, and I’d say, ‘am I actually in Holland?’”
Because of his research, Zandbergen was nominated by the EuroScholars program and GlobaLinks Learning Abroad for a Forum on Education Abroad Undergraduate Research award for 2010.
When his research experience abroad ended, Zandbergen returned to the United States with a different academic focus for his graduate school applications.
“As a result of my experience abroad, I’m interested in graduate work in the field of quantum optics,” he says.
He hopes one day to return to Holland and possibly work with de Dood again.
“That’s the great thing about the EuroScholars program,” he says. “It enabled me to do the research, have fun, and graduate on time.”