DeHarak Receives NSF Grant for Research on Electron Scattering
July 30, 2014
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Adding to the basic understanding of electron scattering processes
will be the focus of a three-year National Science Foundation grant awarded to Illinois
Wesleyan University Assistant Professor of Physics Bruno deHarak. The grant will fund 12 undergraduate research assistant positions
in addition to equipment and supplies.
“The main goal of my research is to answer the simple question of what happens when
an electron scatters from an atom or molecule in the presence of an electromagnetic
field,” said deHarak.
To answer the question, deHarak hits helium atoms with electrons and a powerful laser
beam at the same time, then looks at the energy spectrum of the scattered electrons.
The laser beam he uses has about one billion times the instantaneous power of a laser
With funding from the NSF grant, deHarak will perform experimental laser-assisted
free-free (LAFF) studies. “The study of these processes is fundamental to our understanding
of many aspects of astrophysics, astronomy and plasma physics.
“If theorists have a firm understanding of LAFF processes, then they should be able
to do calculations that can predict, or agree with, experimental results,” he added.
“If they can do this, then we will probably assume the theory they are using describes
the process, at least until something comes along to disprove it. There is a series
of experiments that were done in the 1990s that produced results that theorists cannot
explain. I hope my experiments will give theorists a better understanding of these
The physicist joined the faculty at Illinois Wesleyan in 2009 after earning a Ph.D.
from the University of Kentucky. Prior to beginning his graduate education, deHarak
served in the United States Marine Corps and worked in electronics and systems programming
at Lockheed Martin.
The three-year grant, “A Study of Laser-Assisted Electron-Atom Scattering,” is part
of the Research at Undergraduate Institutions program at NSF. This program supports
faculty in research that engages them in their professional fields, builds capacity
for research at their home institution and supports the integration of research and