Week 2 and 3: The Happily Forward March

I remember the first moment I stepped foot in Vienna. I came out of the subway and had a moment of disbelief. I thought it was ridiculous I was in Vienna, in Europe, thousands of miles away from home. After my first day of work, I looked at myself in the reflection of the train window and made a single nod, “You’re going to be here for three months. Every night, this subway.”

It has been a relaxing and rejuvenating experience these past couple weeks of living alone in a new city. The buildup of three years of memories has finally been able to rest, wresting its weight on this rest stop. The processing has given me a stronger sense of identity and the time allowed me to re-evaluate my values. Summer is a time to do those things which lose priority when school starts. School is really crazy. I hope that is a known statement!

These past two weeks, my heart, soul, and mind have converged in science. Every day has been a challenge of learning new concepts, ideas, and tools. I’ve always sought a challenge like this; one where I can grow, strengthen my physics, and push beyond my boundaries. The whole of me opens to embrace this challenge.

I am lucky to have graduate students, a postdoc, and a professor willing to offer their time and mind to help me. Georg, the graduate student who mentors me, has guided me, explained difficult concepts in simple terms, and shown a patience unbeknownst. He would be a fantastic professor if he chose that path.

Specifically I have learned how to use Comsol, model photonic cavities and generate bandgap diagrams, become competent in MATLab scripting, replicate results from literature papers, code features into existing code, and have a stronger understanding of the physics behind all that we are doing. I still have many gaps in my knowledge and I plan to fill them all in. Moving forward, the plan is to develop a high quality factor nanobeam, on the order of a million; the higher the better. To do this, I must understand optimization, coupling factor, and the mechanics portion of opto-mechanical devices. I find that I always need to strengthen the basis of my understanding before continuing. One example is a recent blunder Georg and I encountered. In trying to reproduce a result from a paper, we couldn’t understand why our simulation led to a light cone larger than the paper’s. When we figured out the value for the index of refraction, we still didn’t understand the physics. After some thinking, it then became obvious! The index of refraction of air is one, and obviously the light cone would have to be there. After all omega (frequency over 2*pi) is equal to k, the wavenumber, times c, the speed of light. k can be equated to the square root of k parallel squared plus k perpendicular squared. The perpendicular k values can be any value in air, while the in-plane, parallel would be below the light cone. Thus having the index of refraction (n) equal to one, means c travels in free space, thus doesn’t slow down. If n was equal to two or three, then our light cone would be located above the upper frequency limit, in a region where the modes travel in air. Now this just means the k perpendicular is now taking on values, causing omega to change/be larger than it actually is!

My goal is to design this cavity and finish fabrication by the end of summer. That would be quite the experience and I enjoy doing fabrication (reminiscent of the work I did last summer, fabricating flexible organic transistor circuits in the clean room). I do want to think how I can contribute something novel to the research and that will be a work in progress. I have a goal of one day publishing a paper, as I think that would be a big step for me and a rewarding new experience.

Next week, there will be a 3-day workshop titled Modern Trends in Solid State Quantum Physics. The invited speakers are all highly city researchers in the field and it would be a treat to learn from them.

Besides science, I have finally finished a book recommended to me by Professor Josephine Ensign from the University of Washington. I met her on the Take a Break trip I co-led my sophomore year of college. The book is called Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. The book is a great insight into the lives of social workers and how concepts such as mindfulness, self-care, and awareness are important. The book has taught me the fragility but also resiliency of human experience, and they we must be kind and aware to those around us.

Most recently, I have started a history book called Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West by William Cronon. This book was recommended to me by Professor Megan Horst of Portland State University. I met her on the second Take a Break trip I co-led earlier this year. The book is truly fascinating and takes you on a journey of 19th century America. I have always been curious as to exactly how America developed into the nation it was today, beyond the pioneers, the westward expansion, and the American dream. Cronon’s book does just that. He traces the development of America from the lens of Chicago. In 1861, all railroads connected to Chicago, or alternatively one could say, all roads led to Chicago. It was a city developed in a strategic location. Grain, meat, and lumber from the West met here with the markets and money of the East. Chicago was the location where markets converged and exchanged goods and cash. The story only gets more interesting as Cronon traces how the development of the city, the market speculation of grain and land, the demand and competition for lumber, and the expansion of railroads led to a change in the surrounding landscape. Our natural environment shaped by the forces of … humans.

I read this book primarily to gain further insight on how America came to be the way it is today. Professor Petersen, my favorite history professor, ingrained in me this idea that to understand the 21st century, we must understand the 20th century, and the centuries preceding it. The 19th century holds no exception. It is also exciting that I was able to form a small book club, three members strong, with two members from my Take a Break group.

Life in Vienna otherwise is rolling smoothly along. These days, I spend a lot of time at work. I don’t have wifi in my room so at night, I am mostly off the grid, which is quite nice. It’s like taking an internet Sabbath every night. I still haven’t adjusted entirely to life here. I don’t know anyone in my dormitory building, only one guy from Serbia who taught me how to use the laundry machines. Every day is different. I take a different route to work and on the way back, I always mix it up, either wandering through a new part of the city or eating a dinner or quick snack at a new café or restaurant. I still get confused on the water I buy. In Vienna, people enjoy drinking sparkling water whereas I am used to ‘still’ water. There are also many cultural differences that appear only as gut feelings at the moment. I hope to dig deeper on the cultural differences between Europe and America. I was thinking today that the American dream is something unique to America, for there doesn’t seem to be that driving force in Austria. What I am really interested in, is uncovering the differences between our values and how those values drive and shape our actions, our policies, and our culture.

Prater Park Celebration

Our lab and the Katsaros Lab went to Prater Park to celebrate the big grant we recently received.


This moment was just after we battled each other out at go kart racing.
I don’t think I went on a ride that did this many 360s and was as high as this one.
Johannes (Professor Fink) ready for the ride and trying to get others to come join.
Around 80-100m height!


The whole group!
Traditional Viennese fair. A roasted pork knuckle called Schweinsstelze.


Alcoholic Ice Cream Affair


Ingredients: Baileys Irish Cream, Condensed Milk, Snicker’s, Twix, and some other things.
Oh, and liquid nitrogen.
Two batches were made, one with alcohol and the other without. Perfect ending to a long week.