Spiders Aid Important Research at U of R’s Laser Lab

March 2, 2011

Spiders – you either love them or hate them. The scientists at the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) love them.

After all, they are very valuable little co-workers.

The U of R’s LLE was established in 1970 as a center for the investigation of the interaction of intense radiation with matter. The quest of the LLE is to establish a long-term energy solution using controlled experiments with fusion.

One of the groundbreaking aspects of this experimentation is the use of spider silk in target mounting – spider silk produced right in the LLE.

For many decades, biologists and material scientists have been researching spider silk – a web-like fiber that the spider prepares as a net, cocoon for harnessing prey, or dragline to lower itself. Of the six types of silk the common spider produces, dragline silk is the most resilient, elastic, strong and biodegradable.

At LLE, dragline silk is used to provide a stable, low mass mount for targets used on the OMEGA Laser System.

Steven Noyes developed the system for spider silk target mounting.

Here’s how it works:

• First a spider is suspended upside down so that dragline silk may be collected.

• Silk is then wrapped around a wheel and placed under UV light to bond the silk to the spokes of the wheel.

• The wheel is then bonded to the target mount.

The goal of using spider silk to hold the target is to simulate a mid-air suspension. The less intrusive the mount, the more accurate the testing results. That is why four strands of spider silk, 3 tenths of a micrometer in diameter are used to hold the target in place.

The target is a millimeter diameter fuel capsule that is fused to produce helium and energy upon being imploded by the 60 OMEGA laser beams.

The LLE is home to the most powerful laser in the world, the Omega Laser System. It is the hope of LLE to create a nuclear reactor that will use controlled fusion as a nearly limitless energy source. With the help of their miniature lab assistants, they seem well on their way.

For more information on the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, click here.

STEM Mentor Program Visits U of R’s Optics Program

December 31, 2010

Members of the STEM Mentor Program and the University of Rochester's Department of Optics

Recently, the University of Rochester’s doctoral program in Optics hosted members of the STEM Mentor Program. 

The STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) Mentor Program is an innovative partnership between  The Rochester Area Colleges Center for Excellence in Math and Science (The Center) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Rochester.

STEM Bigs (who have an interest/education/or career in STEM fields) and Littles (whom are in grades 4-6) visited the University of Rochester’s Institute of Optics in Goergen Hall for a highly interactive afternoon of optics fun. 

Doctoral students working with Professor Andrew Berger presented “Optics is Everywhere” – showing the Littles that, indeed, the field of optics is something they experience everyday. They also got to experiences aspects of optics they never had before, such as looking at their skin via a heat imaging camera.

A huge thank you to Dr. Berger and his students for sharing their passion with the STEM Mentor Program.  It was a wonderful opportunity for the Littles not only to learn about Optics, but to visit a university campus and to see a diverse group of scientists at work (and play!)

Enjoy these photos that capture the spirit of the day.

Littles from the STEM Mentor Program at their "Optics is Everywhere" presentation


Article and photos by Caurie Putnam – Coordinator of the STEM Mentor Program – cputnam3@zimbra.naz.edu