NASA-funded project to build single photo detectors underway at RIT
Students are on a mission to build detectors that could identify individual photons from distant, inhabitable planets. RIT graduate student Justin Gallagher, majoring in astrophysical sciences and technology, works as project manager on this nearly one million dollar grant. The goal is to create a single photon sensing and number resolving detector for NASA missions.
As the student leader of this project, Gallagher is responsible for keeping the team on task and coordinating work between RIT and collaborators at Dartmouth College. He is also tasked with designing the mounting for printed circuit boards and simulating the temperature for them, as well as executing cryogenic experiments to test parts for the preliminary design.
“This is an amazing opportunity for us students,” said Gallagher. “To be able to work on a full-fledged, funded project with deadlines during your college years, you feel like you’re making a real contribution. That kind of empowers you to be able to keep going. We presented results in the Single Photon Workshop last Fall in Milan, Italy, and here I am, a master’s student next to the actual experts in the field from around the world. That’s a big eye opener.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, keeping the project on schedule has been a challenge. Many of the RIT team members are scattered across the country. Students actively working on the project this summer include:
- Lazar Buntic, an astrophysical sciences and technology Ph.D. student from Belgrade, Serbia
- Jake Butler, a third-year computer engineering student from Cheshire, Conn.
- Scott Mann ’20 (electrical engineering) graduated in May and is currently working as a temporary employee
- Long Nguyen, a third-year electrical engineering student from Vietnam, currently on a co-op with Sony Electronics
- Irfan Punekar, a fifth-year student from New York City, is pursuing his BS and MS degrees in computer engineering
“It’s difficult juggling work with lots of different people and taking responsibility for other people’s work, but Gallagher has done a great job,” said Don Figer, principal investigator of the grant and director of RIT’s Future Photon Initiative and the Center for Detectors.
Gallagher will graduate with BS and MS degrees in August, but he will continue to work on the project until its completion. The RIT Center for Detectors has also hired him as a lab engineer.