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Sophomore jumps into research

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Sophomore jumps into research

Charles Meyer looks at the camera, photographed from the shoulders up.

Charles Meyer takes a break while exploring Banff, Alberta, Canada, site of the 2013 North American Molecular Beam Epitaxy (NAMBE) Conference where he gave a presentation on one of his research projects. In addition to presenting internationally, the sophomore electrical engineering and physics major has also begun the steps filing a U.S. patent on research for another project.

As an incoming freshman, Charles Meyer didn’t know anything about research. But when he started classes at the University of Missouri College of Engineering, he was encouraged to apply for the Discovery Fellow undergraduate research program.

“I didn’t even know I wanted to do research,” Meyer said. “I applied and got it… I got lucky and I really grabbed onto it.”

Meyer, now a sophomore, is an electrical engineering and physics major. He works in the lab of Associate Professor Gregory Triplett. Not only has he acclimated to research — he’s thrived.

One of the first projects he worked on with Triplett led to the filing of an invention disclosure, one of the first steps to determine if a patent should be filed. Another research project was selected for presentation at the North American Molecular Beam Epitaxy (NAMBE) Conference. Meyer is already contemplating the next topic he’ll tackle.

“Charles has proven to be an outstanding young researcher,” Triplett said. “He already has two conference publications and a journal publication.”

Meyer worked with Emily Cheng, a sophomore chemical engineering undergraduate, to measure the smoothness of an atomic-scale material. The results indicate the material could be used to make a more powerful, compact laser.

The researchers layered two semiconductor materials, placed down one compound at a time by the molecular beam epitaxy reactor in Triplett’s lab.

Usually when these two compounds — indium arsenide and gallium arsenide — are placed on top of one another, their differing structures create tiny, nano-scale “bumps” in the material known as quantum dots. And while quantum dots have a variety of potential applications, the disruption makes the material unsuitable for use in high-powered quantum cascade lasers.

“It’s like building a house,” Meyer said. “You don’t want a really rough foundation for an expensive house. If these atoms start bunching up, the efficiency of the laser is going to suffer.”

By using a different substrate of one of the materials, Meyer and Cheng were able to get novel results.

“We are among the first to show the possibility of smooth growth with this substrate,” Meyer said. The results, Meyer said, open the possibility of this semiconductor material being used to make more efficient lasers that operate in the atmospheric window. They could potentially be used in infrared countermeasures or to detect gas. The challenge and unique nature of the research he’s doing is what he enjoys most about it, Meyer said.

“When you have a problem, it’s a problem no one else has faced or they’re on the leading edge,” Meyer said. “I’m in the deep end.”

Meyer said the response at the conference was extremely positive. “It went really well,” Meyer said. “There were a lot of people interested in what I had to say.”

The next research project Meyer plans to tackle is an effort to harness heat to charge electronics. “It would be really cool if you could make it work,” he said. “You could charge your phone just by holding it in your palm.”

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