Published: May 14, 2024 By

Katie WoottenEngineering physics major Katie Wootten was named a Stephen Halley White Undergraduate Research Award recipient this semester, in recognition of her outstanding research project. The award is the highest honor for undergraduates in physics at CU Boulder. 

The award was established in 2013 by alumnus Stephen White (Phys’63) whose own research experiences as an undergraduate at CU Boulder helped shape his future career. Dr. White created the award to recognize outstanding undergraduate research projects in physics. 

Pursuing fiber-based sensor research 

Katie began pursuing fiber sensor research with Juliet Gopinath, professor of electrical engineering and physics, in June 2022. She quickly became an integral member of the lab and took leadership of her experiment.

Wootten’s work on a fiber-based sensor for both strain and temperature led her to discover that different polarizations allow for directionally resolved force and temperature sensing.  She uses patterned light, light with optical orbital angular momentum, and a special kind of fiber, polarization maintaining fiber, to achieve the directionally resolved force sensing. This sensor will find many applications in monitoring structural stability, oil and gas operations, environmental monitoring and even biology.

Juliet Gopinath, Wootten’s research advisor states, “Katie is an amazing and inspiring student. Her work ethic, deep technical understanding of her project and beautiful presentations are to be commended. I am glad to have had the honor to work with her.”

While an undergraduate, Wootten presented a conference paper at the peer-reviewed IEEE Photonics Conference, and she has currently has a journal paper under review.

Research project earns top honors 

Wootten’s outstanding honors thesis titled “Orbital Angular Momentum in a Temperature and Force Fiber Sensor,” earned her a summa cum laude designation in physics from the College of Arts & Sciences Honors Program. She was also selected by the Physics Honors Council Representatives as one of two recipients of the Stephen Halley White Undergraduate Research Award, a top honor for undergraduates in physics. 

Jun Ye served as the Honors Council Representative for Wootten’s honors thesis and recommended her highly for the Stephen Halley White Award. He praised Katie’s work highly, “Katie was excellent in her thesis presentation. Her research work is outstanding and impactful.” He added, “She has submitted a journal manuscript to Optics Express.”

What’s next? 

After graduating from CU Boulder this semester with a double major in engineering physics and astrophysics, Wootten plans to pursue a PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Stanford.

Katie Wootten was recognized for this award at the Spring 2024 Physics Recognition Ceremony on May 10, 2024.