Megan Kelleher @ NIST

Megan Kelleher @ NIST

Megan's experience interning with the prestigious National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Posted by Megan Kelleher at 12:13PM   |  Add a comment
Megan in the lab

I am really enjoying working with the members of the Time and Frequency Metrology Group and getting advice from members of other groups in the Time and Frequency Division. There is a pretty strong sense of collaboration at NIST. Different groups share both ideas and equipment freely; I imagine this contributes a great deal to the productivity of NIST.

On the advice of some of my colleagues, I have decided to take my project down a new avenue. The Magneato-Optical Trap (MOT) I am working with is about as prepared as it can be to be vibrated, but I’d like to focus on getting some information out of the MOT before subjecting it to vibration. It is pretty easy to measure the number of atoms in a trap as well as the trap lifetime, but I would like to use feedback from the MOT to stabilize a voltage-controlled oscillator, which is currently providing a microwave frequency to the laser.  

This will probably involve building and designing a servo, or an electronic feedback system. An example of a servo is the thermostat in a house. If the temperature of the house drops below the desired temperature, then the thermostat tells the heater to turn on. In this case, if the frequency of the voltage-controlled oscillator moves off resonance with the MOT, the servo will adjust accordingly to maximize the number of atoms in the trap. Atomic transitions are very stable frequency references. Through this process we can transfer some of the stability of the MOT to the voltage-controlled oscillator. This project will involve a lot of new ideas for me. I am both a little nervous and excited.

The photo above is of me working in the lab. Photo courtesy of Danielle Lirette (



Posted by Megan Kelleher at 10:19AM   |  Add a comment

Wednesday, June 25th, was Bike to Work Day for Colorado. It is a big deal here in Boulder, which makes it fun and easy to celebrate, especially because I bike to work every day anyway. Many businesses, like Amante Coffee, gave away free breakfast. Kathryn, my roommate, and I missed the bake goods, but managed to get a nice, hot cup of coffee. Local bike organizations gave away free prizes and t-shirts. NIST and NTIA had 130 registrants, and there were several prize drawings. I didn't happen to win anything, but I was intrigued by one of the books they gave away and decided to buy it for myself.

Everyday Bicycling, by Elly Blue, is a very quick read, but encouraging to new bicyclists like myself. Biking etiquette and technique can feel like intimidating subjects in a place like Boulder where everyone has or seems to have a great deal of confidence (not to mention the most elite equipment). On the busier streets, I am always nervous about making a turn, but I am starting to get a better sense of what to do. I imagine there will always be something new to learn, and I was happy for Blue’s book.

As I have become more confident, I have been going farther. On Saturday I biked over to Boulder Reservoir, which has a gravel bicycling path around the edge. At the end of the day, I had biked almost 27 miles, which is farther than I have ever gone before. My goal for the end of the summer is to do 50 miles in a day.

The picture above is of my bike at Boulder Reservoir.


Posted by Megan Kelleher at 2:17PM   |  Add a comment

On Thursday evening, my roommate, Kathryn Ledbetter, and I rode our bikes up to Chautauqua, which is a nice place to go for a short hike. This is the first time that I have had a chance to try any of Boulder's hiking, and it was absolutely beautiful. We were only out for a short time, but the trails are lovely even at the beginning. On our way back, we could see quite a bit of Boulder. The trail takes you up, and we were able to spot some of the places I had ridden past on my bike.

Admittedly this was not an easy trip. Boulder is at the base of foothills of the Rocky Mountains. It has an elevation of about 5,000 more feet than Ithaca, and it takes some time to adjust to the altitude. Supposedly I should be over adjustment period, but biking up the small hill to get to Chautauqua seemed like more work than I was expecting! Once we started hiking though, this feeling started to pass and was replaced by a sense of awe. I’m definitely going back in the near future.

This is a picture of a deer that we saw on the trail. They don’t seem to be afraid of people.


Posted by Megan Kelleher at 4:30PM   |  Add a comment
Lora and Megan in the lab.

The National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) is a part of the United States Department of Commerce. NIST’s mission, as stated on their website, is “to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life”. This summer I am working for the Time and Frequency Metrology group, which is a part of the Time and Frequency Division. This is the description of my project from the NIST SURF website:

The metrology group is pursuing atomic clock technology with reduced sensitivities to vibration. Once developed, such technology has immediate use in field applications such as secure telecommunications, navigation, and radar. With this as the guiding goal, the student will be involved in setting up a cold atom clock and performing tests to characterize vibration sensitivity. The student will learn about atomic physics, laser cooling, rf electronics, and noise characterization. (

This picture shows Lora Nugent-Glandorf (right), my adviser, and me in the lab in front of the optical table where I will be doing my research.

Posted by Megan Kelleher at 1:51PM   |  Add a comment
Hapa Sushi

This blog is about my experience with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) in Boulder, Colorado. I am working with Lora Nugent-Glandorf on characterizing the vibration sensitivities of cold atom clocks. I just finished my first week, and I am already very excited by all of the research that happens here at NIST. Working in this environment is very stimulating because there are so many people creating innovative solutions to difficult problems (including many of which I have never heard).

Boulder is also a great place to live. This weekend was Boulder Creek Festival. It is a nice event where I got introduced to some of the local food, art, and bands. Bikes are a big deal in Boulder. I got a new bike on Friday, and I have been enjoying the dedicated bike paths, most of which are very scenic. You can see the mountains from almost anywhere, and the paths often go by small ponds and creeks.

This is a picture from Saturday of me and other SURF students. From the left: Ben Derby, myself, Nik Luhrs, Audrey Tolbert, Miranda Ngan, and April Ai. We were eating at Hapa Sushi for April’s birthday. Happy birthday, April!

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