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The College of Arts Sciences

Junior studies planet formation at Cornell nanoscale facility

By: Yvette Lisa Ndlovu,  A&S Communications
Wed, 08/08/2018

Mahiro Abe ‘20 came to Cornell with a passion for astronomy and cosmology. Thanks to an Arts & Sciences Tanner Dean’s Scholar Grant, he is conducting research this summer at the Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility (CNF) to help develop instruments that can be used to trace regions of star formation and understand the process of planet formation.

“Working in a nanofabrication facility has made me appreciate the physical scale of what we study even more,” said Abe, a physics major. “We are developing devices, with nanoscale patterns especially, to observe some of the largest scale objects in the universe.”

The Cornell NanoScale Science & Technology Facility (CNF) is a national user facility that supports a broad range of nanoscale science and technology projects by providing state-of-the-art resources. Research at CNF encompasses physical sciences, engineering, and life sciences.  

Abe is working with Michael Niemack, associate professor of physics, and Gordon Stacey, professor of astronomy, to develop silicon-based interferometers for the next-generation of astronomical instruments. Interferometers measure small displacements, refractive index changes and surface irregularities. In astronomy, interferometers can consist of two or more separate telescopes.

“We use silicon for our interferometers because it has a high refractive index, meaning light bends significantly when passing through it,” Abe said. “This is the same concept that makes straws look bent in a glass of water, so this is advantageous for telescope optics since it means the lenses can be compact.”

In order to study the formation and evolution of the universe, measurement of different wavelengths of light is required. Through CNF, which has many tools for this kind of work, Abe is patterning nanoscale features on the interferometers, creating them and then testing them. Silicon-based interferometers like these will be used for the CCAT-prime, a telescope that will be sited on Cerro Chajnantor in the Atacama desert of northern Chile, and HIRMES (High Resolution Mid-infrarEd Spectrometer), which will go aboard a NASA-owned airborne observatory.

“Professors Niemack and Stacey have been great mentors for me in this project,” Abe said. “I have also learned a lot from the grad students and staff members at CNF. The people I have worked with have been incredibly helpful, and are the best part of my research experience.”

After graduation, Abe intends on pursuing graduate studies in physics, with cosmology as one of his top choices.

Yvette Lisa Ndlovu is a communications assistant for the College of Arts & Sciences.