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#FacesofPhotonics: Applied Optics Master's Student Christiane Ebongue

REACHING NEW HEIGHTS: Ebongue smiles as she overcomes 
her fear of heights at the top of the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka, Japan
Bonjour! Meet Christiane Ebongue, graduate student at Delaware State University (DSU). Christiane is working on a master's degree in applied optics with a goal of achieving a PhD in Physics. When she is not spending time in the lab  something she says she loves so much, she would even want to be there on her birthday!  she enjoys her role as president of her university's SPIE Student Chapter.

Ebongue moved to the United States from Cameroon for college, although she only spoke French at the time. Learning to speak a new language while learning a new field of science was intimidating, she says, but this feat just speaks to how tenacious of a person Ebongue is.

Another example of this steadfast dedication and passion lies in her photonics advocacy work. After defending her thesis in the morning, Ebongue hopped in her car and drove from Delaware to Washington D.C., to participate in Congressional Visits Day, without missing a beat!

"It was awesome, I don't regret it at all," says Ebongue of her intentional and focused road-trip. "Until that day, I always thought it would be too troublesome and intimidating to try and meet with your representatives. Now, I feel strongly that it is our right to advocate for what we believe in, and it is their duty to listen. That is the most important lesson I learned from this experience, and I intend to participate every year!"

Enjoy the SPIE Faces of Photonics interview with Christiane!

SPEAK YOUR MIND: Ebongue and other National Photonics Initiative volunteers met with
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, representative of Texas' 18th Congressional District in the U.S. House of
Representatives, during Congressional Visits Day 2019

1. How did you become interested in optics and photonics? Was there a particular person who inspired you?

During my senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park, I registered for an atomic physics course because I wanted to explore different realms of physics. I did not know at the time that it would be the beginning of a new and exciting adventure in the field of optics and photonics.

Professor Luis Orozco was the one teaching the course at the time. Throughout the semester, we discussed topics related to light-matter interaction, such as atom trapping and cooling, electro-induced transparency, and more. I was blown away. I never realized so much science existed just by studying the properties of light! Professor Orozco’s style of teaching is to make a student appreciate the physics rather than memorizing enough to be able to pass the exam. That helped me stay engaged in class.

By the end of the semester, my curiosity got the best of me. Even though I was very shy, I gathered up my courage and asked to do an internship in his lab — I needed to learn more. He gave me the internship, and asked me to build a 2D Magneto Optical Trap (MOT). Accomplishing this task required a lot of knowledge about optics, which I was lacking. So I decided to get my master’s degree in Applied Optics.

PARTY-CLE PHYSICS: Ebongue and friend Ike Faddis pose in balloon hats at an family-work event

2. Describe a memorable moment from an SPIE event or conference.

At the 2019 SPIE Photonics West Student Chapter Leadership Workshop, I sat with SPIE Student  Chapter Lead Meagan All and event speaker Christine Haas, and they seem so relaxed. It made me realize that the people in the audience are not aliens ready to attack -- they are human, just like me. It gave me the courage to raise my hand and give a speech. Today, that experience is allowing me the honor of representing one of the faces of SPIE.

CONFIDENCE IS KEY: Ebongue shares her story with the group at the SPIE Photonics West Student Chapter
Leadership Workshop

GLOBAL COLLABORATION: Ebongue and other SPIE Students enjoy a round-table discussion during the
workshop at Photonics West

3. Share the story of your favorite outreach or volunteer experience.

I truly enjoy working with kids. They are gold. When share with them the knowledge that I have and get to see their faces lighting up, it's priceless! One of the outreach activities I especially had fun organizing was the “4 Nerdy Workshops 4 Kids” at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology (OIST) after-school program.

Once a week, over four weeks, we covered four different topics in the STEM field. The first week, we made ice cream with liquid nitrogen. The second week, we put together solar cars and talked about the principles of solar panels. Then we covered DNA and adaptation, and concluded the series with the behavior of light in matter. It’s my favorite outreach activity to date because of a powerful discussion I had with one of the outreach supervisors. She told me that they wish the kids could have more interaction with researchers at OIST! I really put my heart into bringing people together and organizing workshops like that, and the positive feedback made everything worth it.

A MATTER OF LIGHT: Ebongue wows the students at William Henry Middle School in Dover, Delaware, by demonstrating a 3D hologram-maker

4. Explain your current research/what you do at your job. How does your work impact society?

I am currently working under the supervision of Dr. Renu Tripathi at DSU, developing an all-solid-state pulsed laser system emitting light at sodium wavelength (589 nm). The sodium light is obtained via sum frequency generation of two Nd: YAG high-power pump lasers operating at wavelengths 1064 nm and 1319 nm, respectively.

This type of laser has recently been in demand for the laser guide-star applications. There are multiple techniques that have been used to develop the 589 nm laser, such as Dye laser, frequency doubling, Raman amplification, and so on. However, the all-solid-state YAG laser system is capable of producing large output power with a reasonably compact size. Our goal is to utilize this system to develop a sodium LiDAR instrument that will allow us to perform measurements at mesospheric altitudes.

The measurements include the determination of the sodium density, temperature, and radial velocity. As of now, a laser of this kind is not commercially available, even though the need for a compact, high-power sodium laser is rapidly growing.

A BANNER EVENT: Members of the SPIE Student Chapter at Delaware State University pose with visiting 
lecturer Professor Luis Orozco, who spoke on “Correlation Functions in Optics and Quantum Optics”

5. Have you ever had to embrace failure? Describe a challenging situation, either personal or professional, and how you overcame it.

I came to the United States from Cameroon ten years ago. I came straight from high school with a French-education background and enrolled in college where everything was in English. I did not speak English that well, but my writing and reading were not too bad, which is why I was able to pass the test to enter community college. That transition was difficult, to say the least.

I first decided to major in Physical Sciences but scored a 'D' in my Calculus II class. It was eye-opening for me how much effort I needed to put into this new learning curve and the barriers that I would need to overcome to succeed. Learning new concepts in a foreign language was very challenging; I thought I was not going to make it. I cried every night. Then, I would wake up every morning at 3 AM to work on what I could not understand.

I could not understand the American accent, so I started watching and listening to music videos in English. I would also go to my teacher’s office during the day with lots of questions. After all this, my perseverance and determination paid off and my understanding of English slowly improved. I succeeded in my Calculus II class at the end of the semester! That made me realize I could make it through challenges with grit and hard work. I’m also blessed to have friends and family who constantly push me to achieve my potential.

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Ebongue and her family get ready to go canoeing on the Potomac River 
in Washington D.C. to celebrate Mother's Day 

6. When you look five years into the future, what do you hope to have accomplished?

Achieving a PhD-level education in Physics is my long-term goal. My dream is to revitalize and enhance science education to include more hands-on experiments at all grade levels. I especially want to work on enhancing the education in Cameroon. I was excited to learn that there is a SPIE presence in Cameroon! I saw that Paul Woafo of the University of Yaounde won the 2019 SPIE International Day of Light Micro Grant. I look forward to working with colleagues there some day.

7. What is your advice to others in the STEM community?

If you find something that sparks your passion, don’t turn your back. It will be challenging and sometimes you will feel like giving up, but there are always rewards when you do what you love – wouldn't you want to be in the lab, even on your birthday?!

INTERN-NATIONAL: Ebongue celebrates her birthday with colleagues and adviser Professor Helmut Ritsch
during her 2016 summer internship at the University of Innsbruck in Austria

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 present stories on SPIE social media channels:

Or search #FacesofPhotonics on your favorite social network!


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