Eckley Scholar Develops Instrument for Studying Space

July 30, 2018

Sanghyun Nam
Sanghyun Nam ’20

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — By designing, crafting and testing components of a mm-wave spectrometer to study cosmic dust samples, Eckley scholar Sanghyun Nam ’20 hopes to help develop a scientific tool for IWU students to make new discoveries about the makeup of our universe.

Nam is one of five 2018 recipients of the Robert S. and Nell B. Eckley Scholars and Artists Program fellowship, which has allotted a $4,000 stipend for his research project, “Through the Looking Glass: Coercing Millimeter Wavelength Spectroscopy to Reveal More About Interstellar Dust and Hidden Regions of Space.”

The spectrometer operates by shining mm-wave light — a non-visible form of light that lies between infrared and microwave light — through polyethylene disks containing cosmic dust samples. By measuring the amount of light absorbed within the range of the mm-wave, scientists can identify physical and chemical characteristics of interstellar dust in order to understand the type of environments from which they came.

As a physics and chemistry double major, Nam is drawing upon both subjects by prototyping and building various components of the spectrometer and its circuitry, in addition to creating artificial silica-based cosmic dust samples in the chemistry lab to test its functionality, working with Chair and Professor of Chemistry Rebecca Roesner.

“I love this research project since I am able to be exposed to both chemistry and physics,” Nam said.

In his research, Nam works with a mm-wave spectrometer that has been pieced together by previous IWU student researchers. Though the process has required Nam to reconstruct parts of the spectrometer, design new procedures and overcome other hurdles, he views the experience as an opportunity to gain hands-on experience with different machinery and learn more about what it means to be a researcher. To him, trial and error is simply part of the process.

“I believe this is how research works: you always have problems that you do not expect,” Nam said. “And it is important that you always stay positive and enjoy what you do.”

Nam’s research is a continuation of a project with Associate Professor of Physics Thushara Perera and other students which began during the fall of 2017.

“So far, Sam has worked tirelessly to complete all of the work assigned to him,” said Perera, Nam’s faculty sponsor. “He has been a positive influence in the lab, in terms of of both helping others and providing a good example.”

Working as an Eckley scholar this summer has given Nam the opportunity to gain a new level of laboratory experience that builds upon his previous coursework.

“I believe hands-on skills should be valued as much as theory when it comes to research,” Nam explained. “It teaches you to be patient and also makes you enjoy small things in life. I also believe I learn the best when I am learning hands on. As an Eckley scholar, I have learned very valuable hands-on lab skills, along with theory that supports them.”

By Rachel McCarthy ’21