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Meet Bethany Jochim: Physics Doctoral Student Studies Laser-Molecule Interactions

Sep. 14, 2016 - MANHATTAN, Kan. — Bethany Jochim's ultimate goal is to exercise control.

No, the Kansas State University doctoral student in physics is not trying to take over the world — just tiny pieces of it that are indistinguishable to the naked eye.

Jochim, from Pierre, South Dakota, is using intense lasers to fragment molecules. Her research could possibly lead to control of the outcomes of chemical processes one day.

"We study dynamics that happen in laser-molecule interactions and then examine whether we can control them by changing laser parameters," Jochim said. "You can imagine in the future that maybe we could use lasers to control chemical reactions."

More immediately, Jochim hopes her work can contribute to understanding in the field of molecular physics, answer open questions regarding simple molecules, and assist in moving research forward to comprehend more complex molecule behavior.

Jochim and her adviser, Itzik Ben-Itzhak, university distinguished professor of physics, present at annual conferences, including internationally, such as Jochim's 2015 trip to Spain to represent her research group at the International Conference on Photonic, Electronic and Atomic Collisions.

A 2011 winner of the LeRoy Apker Award from the American Physical Society, Jochim is a co-author in several science journal publications. She also was a 2009 Goldwater Scholarship recipient at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, South Dakota — now Augustana University — where she earned her bachelor's degree.

Nevertheless, Jochim maintains that her highest accomplishment is simply continuing to learn.

"As an experimentalist, you need to hone plenty of skills, from learning how to operate all the laboratory equipment to understanding how to interpret your data," Jochim said. "I learn so much from collaborating with theorists, people who do calculations, Dr. Ben-Itzhak and the other graduate students and undergraduate students I'm working with. To me, just learning is the biggest thing."

Jochim's research was funded by the National Science Foundation through the K-State Physics Research Experience for Undergraduates program in 2010 and through the Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Fellowship program from 2012-2015. Her work is currently funded through the J.R. Macdonald Laboratory's Department of Energy grant.

Though the grants and awards are helpful, the motivation that drives Jochim to perform research in the lab is insatiable curiosity.

"This idea of controlling molecules at their quantum level is so intriguing for me," Jochim said.

"Also, when you have problems in the lab that you work so hard to fix, it's sometimes really frustrating, but when you finally have a glimmer of hope and things start working, that's really exciting," she said. "It makes me want to come back the next day."

The physics department is part of the College of Arts & Sciences. Graduate programs at Kansas State University are offered through the Graduate School.

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