New Physics Prof’s Expertise: Experimental Optics


WardAfter spending just one month in her high school physics class, Dr. Kebra Ward knew she wanted to teach physics. The newest member of MCLA’s physics faculty, Ward said physics not only made sense to her, it explained everyday events, and gave a context and reasoning for the way the world works.

In addition to physics, light, too, has long fascinated Ward.

“The duality of its nature results in some amazing phenomena,” she explained. “I originally studied light through the lens of astronomy. As an undergrad I analyzed how light from different stars was absorbed by certain elements, and from that we were able to determine the composition of the stars. Amazing!”

In graduate school, she moved to experimental optics, and studied how the energy from light affected the material properties of crystals. Today, experimental optics is her field of expertise, as she investigates how light interacts with various materials, particularly organic semiconducting crystals.

“Semiconductors are in almost all the electronic devices that you probably have within your arm’s reach, right now. Most of those semiconductors are made from inorganic materials, like silicon. I study how energy moves in the organic crystals so we can learn about the physical process that would make these crystals suitable for use in optoelectronic devices.”

Proposed applications for organic crystals include flexible displays, such as a computer screen that can be rolled up, and solar panels.

Ward aims to start up an optics lab at MCLA, where she might continue her research with interested physics students. “Who wouldn't want to shoot lasers at crystals and get credit for it?”

She wants her students to be able to ask difficult questions, to become curious, and to question the world around them.

“Knowing what questions to ask is just as important as being able to answer them,” she explained. “The physics department at MCLA has worked hard to foster that curiosity, particularly through their advanced labs.”

She chose MCLA because it’s a place where she could focus on teaching and use research as an educational tool.

“I also wanted to be at a small program that would let me get to know my students and give them personal attention. I'm a better teacher when I know my students' names,” Ward said.

She continued, “MCLA students have been dedicated and willing to try anything I throw at them – in and out of class. They participate passionately when discussing a difficult topic, and often I have students come back to my office to continue the discussion.”

Asked how she might best contribute to the field of physics at MCLA, Ward said she aims to train future researchers.My goal here is to train the physics major so that when they arrive at graduate school, or start working in a research lab, they are ready to workright off the bat.”

“I was so happy to find a public liberal arts college,” she added. “College is crazy expensive now, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to provide students with the personalized and broad education small, liberal arts colleges provide without the crippling debt.”