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Laser Research Offers Student More Learning Opportunities

November 21, 2011

UC Merced physics major Alessandro Castelli uses lasers to hold and stretch cells and other tiny objects.

Working alongside Professor Jay Sharping, Castelli takes what he's learning in the classroom and uses it in the Applied Phototonics Research Group.

What makes this experience awesome is the fact that I’m actually doing what I’m studying,” Castelli said. “So instead of just learning it and then never actually utilizing it, I can come in and apply it.”

Sharping and Castelli are studying and refining the technology so the entire system can fit on an inexpensive lab chip. It's something that could be used in academic research, high school labs and even out in the field.

Two optical fibers, roughly double the thickness of a human hair, emit a cone of infrared light that can hold a cell in place. This innovative tool gives researchers a new way to study how cells respond in different experiments.

It’s the closest thing that we can imagine that is a tractor beam in the laboratory because you’re really forcing a particle to be in one spot, sucking it into a particular spot with light,” Sharping said.

Castelli, of San Jose, came to UC Merced because he knew the intimate environment would offer him more opportunities. 

“I had a feeling that if I came here it'd be better for me personally than if I went to some big college where I could get lost in the crowd,” Castelli said. “I think it's definitely turned out that way. I really doubt I would be having such awesome research experience if I was at some other college.”

After graduating, Castelli plans to pursue a Ph.D.

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