Independent Minds, Working Together
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Amy Lytle ’01

Assistant Professor of Physics at Franklin & Marshall College

Ask Amy Lytle how Wooster best prepared her for life after graduation, and she’ll tell you about her first graduate school classes at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Wooster’s liberal arts curriculum meant that her course background was very different from other students’, she says, “but I had much better preparation in writing and presenting. My research experiences as an undergrad really gave me an advantage once I got into the lab.”

That’s because she had already learned to call a physics laboratory home, beginning with summer research at Wooster under Don Jacobs, Victor J. Andrew Professor of Physics, following her sophomore year. “It was a very collegial atmosphere in the department,” Lytle says. “We definitely had fun, even though we worked hard.” Lytle also found a home in the Scot Band, the Pipe Band and with the Physics Club—and it didn’t hurt that brother John Lytle ’99 (now a visiting faculty member in the College’s French department) was there for guidance.

Summer research opened up the possibility of doing research professionally, Lytle says, and hands-on experience gave her the confidence to pursue a career in physics. Fast-forward to senior year (after an internship doing optics research for IBM) and Lytle was ready to complete her Independent Study. Working with Prof. Shila Garg, Lytle conducted a structural and optical study of the liquid crystalline phases of DNA. “Putting together an I.S. was definitely the biggest project I had taken on, and it was immensely satisfying to accomplish,” Lytle says.

After leaving UC Boulder with her Ph.D., Lytle taught for two years at Hamilton College, and is now in her second year teaching physics and astronomy at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. Her current research focuses on a nonlinear optical process known as frequency conversion, a way of creating new types of laser sources, which can then be used in other areas of research. Lytle is working to develop a technique to boost the efficiency of frequency conversion, which is naturally energy inefficient.

She is also working to keep her I.S. experience alive by advising students on their own independent research projects; she collaborated with a student last year on his work in characterization of ultrafast lasers. “Since becoming a faculty member,” Lytle says, “I’ve tried to give my students the same sort of research experiences I had at Wooster. I hope I am able to inspire the same sort of excitement about physics that I had as an undergrad.”

By Mary Dixon ’12