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#FacesofPhotonics: PhD Student at the University of Arizona, Shelbi Jenkins

Shelbi Jenkins and her cat, Beans
SPIE's #FacesofPhotonics is sharing the story of Alaska-born Shelbi Jenkins, a PhD student studying at the University of Arizona's College of Optical Sciences.

In the interview, Shelbi shares what she's working on in Bob Norwood's Magneto-Optics Lab at U of A, her most memorable outreach moment, and this adorable photo of her cat, Beans!

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics.

As a part of my physics undergrad, I worked on a research project that looked at the industrial applications of ultra-fast laser ablation. That was when I was first exposed [to the field], and I decided that I wanted to learn more about optics and how it could be used. So, I decided to go to grad school and to study it!

I am happy with my decision -- to me, photonics research feels like a nice balance between pure physics research and engineering. That is a nice perk considering I was never able to decide which I liked better, physics or engineering, prior to starting my work.

2. Share your favorite outreach or volunteer story. 

Shelbi and her friend Marika

I used to teach science to fifth graders once a week. We had lessons focusing on environmental sciences, biology, chemistry, and physics.  I always loved how excited they were to learn new things, and all the questions they had -- it is really exciting to help others learn. Marika and I (pictured above) were the ones who wrote and led the physics lessons for the program. Physicists don't normally wear lab coats for their work, but we wanted the fifth graders to think we looked cool and scientific!

In grad school, my favorite type of outreach is leading lab tours. I love to talk to people about my work and show them all of the fun things that you  can do with optics.

Shelbi and undergraduate classmates working in their 
 research lab

3. Explain your current research, and how it can impact society.

My research involves using magneto optics materials to build magnetic field sensors that can be used in brain-imaging techniques. This can offer additional insight into the structure, as well as the functionality, of brain processes.

4. What is your advice for others in the STEM community?

STEM can be really challenging, especially when it comes to research. I would advise people not to be discouraged by major roadblocks, or even everyday frustrations. Everyone struggles, and that is okay. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to you.

5. What are you most excited to see in the future development of photonics?

I love to see the innovations people are making that can help with real-world issues, especially in the areas of medical innovation, energy, and environmental conservation.

Shelbi at Zion National Park, 
the summer before she started grad school

SPIE’s #FacesofPhotonics social media campaign connects SPIE members in the global optics, photonics, and STEM communities. It serves to highlight similarities, celebrate differences, and foster a space where conversation and community can thrive.

Follow along with past and upcoming stories on SPIE social media channels:

Or search #FacesofPhotonics on your favorite social network!


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