Finding My Home at OSA

By Felipe Beltrán Mejía, 2017 OSA Ambassador, Brazil

The idea of writing this post came from an informal conversation with OSA President, Eric Mazur, during Winter Leadership Meeting this past January. This is about how my good friend Dr. Alvaro Casas Bedoya and I were able to turnaround a difficult situation and finish our physics degrees, using the advantages of OSA’s student membership.

Alvaro and I received our degree from Universidad del Valle (UV) in Cali, Colombia. At that time, we needed to finish all the credits as well as develop, write, and defend a one-year research thesis. While this was a stressful experience, it was worth it since it was great way to speak to future advisors about my background. Alvaro’s thesis was to build a high-power CO2 laser for material processing. This laser was going to enable other research directions and thus many member of our group participated and provided input to this challenging project, including myself. One of the main electrical circuits for a high-power laser is a full wave rectifier that requires high power diodes. The problem at that time was, that in our country, this “fancy” stuff was really hard to find or almost impossible.
One morning, at the beginning of our Solid-State Physics lecture, our professor Dr. Pedro Prieto gave us a great talk about the importance of being part of a scientific society. This was so inspiring to us that right after class we went on the Internet to look for a society that gathers people that likes to “burn” stuff with lasers and things like that. In that search, we found out about OSA and what it had to offer us. After researching more about the benefits they had to offer its student chapters, we decided that we wanted to create our own OSA Student Chapter. This was not an easy task, since most of UV’s students are from humble origins where $10 USD can be a lot of money. With the help of our families and our faculty teachers, and especially from our advisor, Professor Dr. Efraín Solarte, we were able to fund CUVO, the first Colombian optical student chapter and still a very active chapter (way to go guys!!). Can you guess who the first president of the CUVO was? You are right, first it was me and then I was succeeded by Alvaro.
As an OSA’s student chapter member, I was elected to represent our chapter, for the first time, at the Student  Leadership Conference that is part of the OSA’s annual meeting Frontiers in Optics (FiO, Tucson 2003). At that time, the OSA reimbursed the foreign students travel expenses as soon as they were back in their country, which means I had to pay all by my own using a very limited budget up front before the conference. Hitch hikes with really nice people (and some other really crazy people), cowboy fights and many other cool adventures make part of this long story. Also, I got to know some of my real-life super-heroes such Dr. Linn F. Mollenauer who experimentally demonstrated the existence of optical solitons in fibers. It was an awesome experience, and I still remember how motivating it was for me to have memories that I can revive every time one of my students return from one of these superb-scientific meetings and get to see by their own how cool and engaging it is to be part of a scientific society such as OSA.
Luckily, I identified were to buy the diodes at FiO (remember the CO2 laser?). I still remember emailing Alvaro to tell him it was as easy as buying bread for breakfast... if you have the money. Next year, Alvaro went to OSA's Student Leadership Conference and was able to buy the diodes. After his return, we constructed and installed a full wave rectifier that considerably improved our lab's CO2 laser and helped us earn our degree in physics.


Posted: 18 May 2017 by Felipe Beltrán Mejía, 2017 OSA Ambassador, Brazil | with 0 comments

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