Female students excel in physics - Engineering & Natural Sciences

Female students excel in physics

The American Physical Society recently recognized TU as one of the nation’s top universities for female physics students. The following alumnae excelled as undergraduates and are making significant advancements in current physics research.

Anne Gambrel
Every day, Anne Gambrel (BS ’11) gets to learn or do something new in science fields ranging from theoretical physics and mechanical engineering to electrical and cryogenic engineering. As a doctoral student specializing in cosmology at Princeton University, she is striving to answer one of physics’ most challenging questions: How did the universe begin?

“My experiment could help us understand the answer to that question, which is by far the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to say about anything I’ve ever done,” Gambrel said. Her experimental project is a balloon-borne telescope known as SPIDER that launched from Antarctica on Jan. 1, 2015. Equipped with six telescopes, the device flew in space for 16 days, capturing 120 photos of the sky every second. Gambrel and her research colleagues will spend the next year analyzing the 1.5 terabytes of data SPIDER collected.

Anne Gambrel
Anne Gambrel

“We successfully recovered the hard drives from the payload at its landing spot, and those drives held a fantastic dataset,” she said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to combine those images into a single picture and then figure out what that picture tells us about the beginning of the universe.”

While sorting through mounds of data, Gambrel and the Princeton team also are developing an improved version, SPIDER 2, which is expected to take flight from Antarctica in December 2017. She said her ventures in space exploration were inspired by foundational TU mentors who encouraged independent thought and bold ideas.

“Both in labs and in research, TU gave me the opportunity to find problems that interested me and then come up with solutions on my own for how to find answers,” Gambrel said.

As an undergraduate, the Omaha, Neb., native collaborated with Associate Professor Parameswar Harikumar to create a composite material of carbon nanotubes and copper. In Associate Professor Alexi Grigoriev’s laboratory, she researched the temperature dependence of switching times for thin-film ferroelectric materials. Outside the classroom, Gambrel participated in TU’s Sustaining Engineering for Needy and Emerging Areas organization where she helped design and build a human powered vehicle for villagers in China.

“It was basically a recumbent tricycle with a small bed in the back. We designed it using bicycle parts and other equipment that people in rural areas would have access to, so they could build these vehicles themselves with our prototype and instructions as a guide,” Gambrel said.

Looking back at her TU days, each research scenario and experiment led Gambrel to where she is today. Once the SPIDER team has published its findings, she plans to graduate from Princeton in 2016 and continue research at a government laboratory or university. No matter where her future endeavors take her, Gambrel said TU’s physics department has left a lasting impression on her life and career.

“I enjoyed interacting with faculty and a motivated student body that helped me pursue my passion. It’s a close-knit group in a very welcoming and encouraging environment.”

Erin Stranford Lamb
Erin Stranford Lamb (BS ’10) is celebrating a huge achievement in her physics career. After earning a master’s degree in applied physics from Cornell University in 2012, she received her doctorate in August 2015 and is starting a post-doctoral research appointment.

For the past five years, Lamb has researched nonlinear optics in fiber lasers and devices. Her work involved investigating sources for coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) microscopy and stimulated Raman scattering (SRS) microscopy – imaging techniques useful in the examination of biological samples. These methods offer high-resolution, three-dimensional sectioning of live tissue without the need for fluorescent labels. However, CARS and SRS must be executed in highly specialized laboratories due to the cost and maintenance associated with the current solid-state laser source.

Erin Stranford Lamb
Erin Stranford Lamb

To address these challenges, Lamb has dedicated much of her collegiate research agenda to developing an improved imaging source that performs much like the solid-state option but utilizes the alignment-free nature and reduced costs of standard fiber optics.

“I enjoy building experiments you can understand and contribute to on a daily basis. I like research that applies to the real world and helps people,” she said. “The math of optics is intriguing, and it links back to the applied math work I did at Tulsa.”

As a TU undergraduate, Lamb double majored in physics and applied math while conducting optics research with faculty including Associate Professor Scott Holmstrom. In 2010, she was awarded a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship to pursue her interests at Cornell. A native of Albuquerque, N.M., Lamb chose TU for its strong math and science programs and was drawn to the enthusiasm on campus.

“Even though I’ve worked at larger research facilities at Cornell, the level of personal attention and support at TU is unique,” she said. “Tulsa fosters a good environment for people to learn and work.”

Lamb encourages female scientists to join her field and feed their passions for math and physics. She loves research and forsees it at the center of her promising career.

“It’s a satisfying experience to get to learn about and understand new things and see them work,” Lamb said.

With a new doctorate to her name, Lamb and her husband, Alan, a software developer, have moved from Ithaca, N.Y., to Boulder, Colo., where she will fulfill a two-year term of post-doctoral research at the National Institute of Standards and Technologies.

Lamb’s sister Devin Stranford was a 2014 Goldwater Scholar and earned TU bachelor of science degrees in chemical engineering and biology in May. She is a chemical engineering Ph.D. student at Northwestern University.