Graduate student lands $400,000 laser technology grant for team


Doctoral student Amanda Black Clark and Dr. Don Gregory using a developmental test bench laser in UAH’s Optics Building.

Michael Mercier | UAH

A University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) student landed a $400,000 competitive grant from the Dept. of Defense High Energy Laser Joint Technology Office (JTO) for a team effort to develop and test diode-pumped xenon laser technology for the U.S. military.

UAH's Amanda Black Clark is a doctoral student in Optical Science and Engineering who also works for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command (SMDC-ARSTRAT) Technical Center's Directed Energy Division. She was the lead author of the awarded proposal and successfully defended it in Albuquerque, NM, in December. Her UAH advisor is Dr. Don Gregory, a distinguished professor of physics.

In addition to UAH and SMDC/ARSTRAT, team members include NASA Marshall Space Flight Center's Environmental Effects Division and the Air Force Research Lab's Directed Energy Directorate.

"Our mission is to develop high-energy lasers to intercept rockets, mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles," says Clark. The atomic-level spectroscopy basic research investigates the physical laser parameters in multiple xenon isotopes using a developmental test bench laser in a lab in UAH's Optics Building.

"We are building it at UAH to test out the concepts involved," says Dr. Gregory.

Our mission is to develop high-energy lasers to intercept rockets, mortars and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Amanda Black Clark
Doctoral student
Optical Science and Engineering

Historically, the military has developed chemical reaction gas lasers that can pose byproduct disposal problems, Clark says, but in more recent years it has moved toward electrical lasers, typically diode pumped solid state.

"From a military standpoint, all you need to operate these types of lasers is electricity," she says. "That's a lot easier to manage than chemical drivers."

The researchers are measuring the efficiency and power of diode-pumped xenon lasers, which could one day supplant the older technologies.

"We are trying to reduce the amount of power and the size and weight required to operate a laser," Clark says.

The spectroscopy research explores methods of perfecting semiconductor diode power coupling in xenon atoms and stabilizing electron energy levels. The wavelength produced with this new xenon laser is comparable to previous electric high power solid state lasers.



Dr. Don Gregory

Jim Steele