4/07/2021 Peter Durantine

Student, Professor Find Excited Atoms Absorb Energy

As jewelry, the blood-red ruby is alluring to the eye, but what does not capture the gaze is the chemical element – chromium – that gives the gemstone its color.

“The chromium impurities are responsible for the red color of rubies and we are interested in determining how energy transfers from one excited chromium ion to another,” Associate Professor of Physics Ken Krebs said. “We are studying the distribution of chromium impurity ions in high-concentration rubies.”

For senior physics major Jared Schott, the research he’s been doing with the Franklin & Marshall College professor through the Hackman Endowment Fund has been exciting and rewarding.

“My research over the past two summers first entailed helping Professor Krebs code a Monte Carlo simulation to help guide us through the physical processes of impurity ion excitation,” Schott said. “We would start from the same bit of code, and then each try different approaches to get to the next step. Whichever one worked better we kept and then started the process over until the simulation was modifiable and ran smoothly.”

  • Schott says the research “let me get hands-on experience and actually do things not on a computer or a board of theoretical calculations.” Schott says the research “let me get hands-on experience and actually do things not on a computer or a board of theoretical calculations.” Image Credit: Deb Grove

When not working on the code – created in 2019 by Krebs in MATLAB, a computing program engineers and scientists use for data analysis and algorithms – Schott made new samples with different concentrations of impurity ions in Nano-ruby combustion synthesis.

“It let me get hands-on experience and actually do things not on a computer or a board of theoretical calculations,” he said. “I really enjoyed this aspect of the experiment more than anything else.” 

Last summer, because students were not allowed in the campus laboratories, Schott, who plans to attend graduate school for a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, simulated the particle growth from his College Row apartment. 

“The summer before he actually made some of the rubies in the lab,” Krebs said. “The paired chromium ions have slightly lower energy levels than the chromium ions that do not interact with others because the exchange coupling between the ions lowers their energy levels.”

Schott and Krebs, who also is Schott’s academic adviser, discussed the student’s love for hands-on projects and, in particular, 3D modeling and design when Schott was in Krebs’ class as a sophomore. This made the research an exceptional experience.

“He was able to take something that I was passionate about and incorporate it into the research,” Schott said. “I was able to design and print a piece of equipment for the testing of the samples. That the professor took an interest in my interests and constantly checked in to make sure I was staying attentive and productive, whilst also having fun, made all the difference.” 

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