DOE Pulse
  • Number 330  |
  • February 7, 2011

Grant winner plans new spin on liquid crystals

Mark Dalton

Mark Dalton

Liquid crystals, used widely in LCD televisions and computer monitors, may play a prominent role in a device being designed by a University of Virginia researcher, who was recently named the recipient of the 2011 JSA Postdoctoral Research Grant at DOE's Jefferson Lab.

Mark Dalton, a research associate at UVa, plans to use the $11,000 JSA grant to develop a so-called Kerr cell. The cell, which may include liquid crystals, will be used in a system to produce spinning electrons for a future experiment to be conducted at Jefferson Lab.

"It feels good; it's exciting. I think the work needs to be done, and I'm glad to have the opportunity to do it. And it's nice to be the master of the destiny of the project," Dalton said.

Dalton, who earned his B.S. and Ph.D. at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, was selected by the Users Group Board of Directors, the governing body of the group that represents scientists who use Jefferson Lab facilities to conduct nuclear physics research. In making the award, the board judged each applicant on his or her record of accomplishment in physics, proposed use of the research grant and the likelihood of further accomplishments in the Jefferson Lab research fields.

Dalton is designing the Kerr cell for what is known as the MOLLER experiment. The experiment will require the delivery of a polarized electron beam - one in which the spins of the electrons are mostly aligned in one direction. The experimenters must also be able to flip that polarization more rapidly and cleanly than the current equipment allows, which is the purpose of the Kerr cell.

"Kerr cells aren't commercially available, so we have to build one," Dalton explained. "It would be a chamber, and inside would be a gas or a liquid, such as liquid crystals, and there would be clear windows on either side, so that the light can get in and out."

Dalton said he'll spend the next year designing and building a prototype of the cell for testing.

Submitted by DOE's Jefferson Lab