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Lankford One of Seven Finalists for American Physical Society’s Apker Award

Recent Wooster graduate honored for her senior Independent Study on quantum computers

29 September, 2016 by Hugh Howard

WOOSTER, Ohio – Maggie Lankford, who graduated summa cum laude from The College of Wooster this past May, was selected as one of seven finalists for the American Physical Society’s LeRoy Apker Award, known as the preeminent honor for undergraduate research in physics in the United States.

Lankford earned the distinction for her senior Independent Study, entitled “The Production and Manipulation of Nonseparable Spin-Orbit Modes of Light Under Hong-Ou-Mandel Interference Conditions.” The project has to do with quantum computers, involving the theoretical prediction and experimental creation of new structures of light with potential applications to the sharing of information for communication or to do computations. “We developed this new apparatus … made a mathematical model of it, then built it, then used it to generate this new type of pattern of light that can be used for information processing or for communicating between two parties,” she explained.

“Finding out about Maggie’s well-deserved recognition was the highlight of my year,” said Cody Leary, assistant professor of physics and adviser of Lankford’s I.S. “(This) demonstrates Wooster’s strength as a source of some of the most excellent undergraduate research occurring on the national stage.”

“I didn’t know about (the Apker) until I was about done with my I.S. and Professor Leary suggested, if it was okay with me, that he nominate me for this award,” added Lankford. “I’m very pleased to say the least.”

Lankford is certainly in good company with other finalists hailing from the likes of Dartmouth College, Kenyon College, and MIT among others. She and the other finalists presented their research in front of the Apker Award selection committee in Washington, D.C., in August.

“It was very nerve racking. The selection committee was made up of very academic, very intelligent, really some of the most high-profile people in the science community,” recalled Lankford. “My favorite part was learning about how the committee got to where they are now, learning about each of their backgrounds. They were very supportive. They asked very good questions, difficult questions. It was incredibly rewarding to be in front of those people.”

Lankford, a native of Lebanon, Ohio, who is currently employed as a scientist at Azimuth Corporation and may pursue a master’s degree in electro-optics at some point, joins Stephen Poprocki ’07 and Jeffrey Moffitt ’03 as the third Wooster alumnus to be a finalist for this award.

According to the APS, the Apker Award recognizes outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduates and someone who holds future promise in scientific accomplishment. All of the finalists received an honorarium of $1,000, plus an additional $1,000 for their undergraduate institution’s physics department. Two winners – one from a Ph.D. granting institution and one from a non-Ph.D. granting institution – will be announced in October.