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UAH grad extends physics studies with fellowship

HUNTSVILLE — Ella James, who received a bachelor of science in physics from the University of Alabama in Huntsville this past spring, has been awarded a National Defense and Science and Engineering Fellowship.

“It’s three years of tuition for graduate school,” James said. “I’m very grateful for this fellowship. I see it as God’s blessing for me to continue to study the things I’m curious about.”

The fellowship pays full tuition and required fees (excluding room and board) as well as a monthly stipend and health insurance.

One of the things James said she has long been curious about is light. She said her graduate research in physics will concentrate in optics, likely quantum entanglement. The phenomenon involves two photons that are somehow linked no matter how far apart they are.

“If you do something to one particle, it instantly changes the other. Why that’s weird is that information can’t travel faster than the speed of light,” James said. “Optical communications can only travel as fast as light can. So, how can photons that are 100 light-years away from each other instantly communicate?”

No one has answered that question yet, but the answer isn’t necessary to make the phenomenon useful.

“It’s not so much answering the question about how photons instantly communicate,” James said. “It’s more just using that phenomenon, or using the fact that they are able to communicate instantly, that will help create secure quantum computers.”

The NDSEG Fellowship program was established by Congress in 1989 to increase the number of U.S. citizens receiving doctoral degrees in science and engineering disciplines of military importance. The highly competitive program has awarded nearly 4,700 fellowships from more than 70,000 applications.

It is sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office and the Office of Naval Research under the direction of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research & Engineering. James’ fellowship falls under ARO.

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