Welcome to Light Matters! We are a project of Jen Dionne’s research lab at Stanford University.

We aim to show you the behind-the-scenes process of doing research, to give you a glimpse of daily life in the lab, and to spotlight science that we’re especially excited about!

Please email Diane at dmw53 at stanford dot edu if you have any questions or feedback!

The Team:


Brian Baum

My science biography: I am a sixth-year graduate student in the materials science & engineering department, researching the next generation of nanoscale optical communication devices. I served my time as an undergraduate at MIT, where I also worked at the campus research nuclear reactor.

My favorite place on campus: The Anderson Collection

My favorite lab instrument: The focus ion beam system in the Stanford Nano Shared Facilities

Ask me about: campus activism, parity-time symmetry, and unpopular music



Jen Dionne

My science biography: I am an assistant professor in the department of Materials Science and Engineering (but don’t spread that around – I still enjoy getting student discounts whenever possible!). I studied Physics and Systems Science and Mathematics as an undergrad at WashU, then went to Caltech for a PhD in Applied Physics (advised by Harry Atwater), and dabbled in Chemistry for my postdoc at Berkeley (advised Paul Alivisatos).

I like to imagine a future where diseases like Alzheimer’s are cured with light, solar cells provide abundant and inexpensive clean energy, and laptops and cell phones compute at the speed of light. I then work with my group to make that vision a reality through synthesis and characterization of new optical nanomaterials, metamaterials and devices.

My favorite place on campus: The Dish

My favorite lab instrument: Our Ti-Sapph laser

Ask me about: science, work-life balance, Vietnamese food, Invisalign



Fariah Hayee

My science biography: I am a second-year graduate student in Electrical Engineering, currently working on phase-transition in nanoparticles to have applications in energy storage systems. I am also researching photonic crystal lattices, as I find nanoscale manipulation of light fascinating. Before coming here, I did my Bachelors and Masters in Electrical Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET).

My favorite place on campus: Not a place actually, but the walk to the Education Building from Durand to get the best cheap coffee on campus from Cubberley!

My favorite lab instrument: The FEI Titan Environmental Transmission Electron Microscope in the Stanford Nano Shared Facilities

Ask me about: transmission electron microscopy, photonic crystal lattices, how to cope in a new country, trendy pop music



Shing Shing Ho

My science biography: I am a third year graduate student in Applied Physics, studying ways to separate chiral enantiomers using light. I spent my undergraduate years across the Bay at UC Berkeley, where I studied physics and applied mathematics, as well as many light-related topics, including plasmonics, solar cells, and silicon photonics.

My favorite place on campus: The Windhover contemplative center (where the above picture was taken!)

My favorite lab instrument: Curry and Curie, our affectionately named simulation computers with 56 processing cores and 256GB of RAM. Don’t make me choose a favorite child.

Ask me about: Mie theory, East Bay vs. South Bay, one-pot cooking, where to buy good food.


Alice at the AFM

Alice Lay

My science biography: I am a third-year graduate student in the applied physics department, researching active (pressure- and voltage-sensitive) upconverters for bioimaging. I am also a member of NeuroFab, a collaborative effort between engineers and biologists to understand how the brain works. Originally from San Diego, I have managed to stay in sunny California, completing my undergraduate degrees in physics and business administration at UC Berkeley and now, pursuing my PhD at Stanford.

My favorite place on campus: The Rodin Sculpture Garden at the Cantor Arts Center

My favorite lab instrument: Our in-house atomic force microscope (AFM) with an inverted optical microscope and spectrometer (pictured above with my “Ooh, I’m doing science” face)

Ask me about: painting & craft projects, ballroom dancing, pressure (physical and emotional), neurons, exploring the world!



Katherine Sytwu

My science biography: I’m a second year graduate student in the Applied Physics department, researching ways to image light matter interactions on the nanoscale. I was an undergrad at Rutgers University, where I majored in physics and math, and worked on a variety of different research projects, ranging from surface plasmons to complex networks.

My favorite place on campus: Either the palm tree entrance to the engineering quad or Clark Center at night

My favorite lab instrument: Does MatLab count? (Editor’s note: yes)

Ask me about: bagels, boundary element method, education reform, gardening attempts, squirrels


Sexy man

Michael Wisser

My science biography: I am a fifth year graduate student in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering studying under the coadvisement of Jen Dionne and Alberto Salleo.  My work centers around utilizing strain induction to improve upconverting nanoparticles in the context of photovoltaic applications.  Originally from Bloomington, Minnesota (our mall is bigger than your mall), I graduated from Northwestern University in 2011 before beginning at Stanford in the same year.

My favorite place on campus: Gotta be the gym, obvi.  A more difficult matter would be choosing my favorite place to poop on campus.  The bathrooms under the main quad (you’ll have to find those yourself!) as well as those in the Littlefield Center would make the shortlist.

My favorite lab instrument: Is Songza a lab instrument? Mayo (Editor’s note: no)

Ask me about: lanthanide upconversion, Halo, structure-property relationships, soccer, how to get big



Diane Wu

My science biography: I am a sixth-year graduate student in the chemistry department researching upconversion. Before arriving at Stanford in 2010, I spent a year as an organic chemistry teaching assistant at Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, and before that, four years studying chemistry at Cornell University.

My favorite place on campus: The water feature behind Kingscote Gardens

My favorite lab instrument: The Magellan scanning electron microscope in the Stanford Nano Shared Facilities

Ask me about: budget travel, upconverting nanoparticles, whether or not it can go in the recycling bin




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