SAFE Grant Student Spotlight: Claire Brown, Physics and Astronomy

SAFE Grant Student Spotlight: Claire Brown, Physics and Astronomy 

Claire Brown is a senior from Waxhaw, N.C. 

Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) fund recipient 

Project: “Construction of an Automated Optical Tweezer Apparatus” 

SAFE grant funding aided in Brown’s construction of an automated optical tweezer apparatus. This instrument is being employed to conduct several biophysics based projects as well as being used as a training tool for new undergraduate researchers.

Brown described an optical tweezer as using “a highly focused laser light to ‘trap’ nano-scale objects, about 1/1000th the width of a human hair. The trapped object’s position can then be manipulated by moving the beam of the laser using motored mirrors.” She explained the construction of the tweezers involved multiple optical components including various lenses, mirrors, telescopes and microscopes. Brown arranged these components in a configuration that allows her to direct and focus the beam within the microscope column.

Dr. Brooke Hester, associate professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, and Brown’s faculty advisor added, “the SAFE fund allowed for the purchase of crucial electronic components used to build the temperature-controlled sample chamber. Claire's device will be in use indefinitely for experiments involving biological cells in the BiyOSeF lab, providing a necessary component for valid and accurate measurements of living systems.”

The construction process allowed Brown to gain valuable research experience in an area she is passionate about and makes her a more valuable candidate when applying for Engineering Ph.D. programs. Through this, she also learned skills such as troubleshooting and collaboration.

“With the money from SAFE, I was also able to conduct the research needed to work on my Honors Thesis as well as work towards a possible publication in the American Institute of Physics Review of Scientific Instruments,” said Brown.

Commenting on Brown’s hard work, Hester also mentioned, “I'm so proud of Claire. She has worked independently to engineer, implement and test a working temperature controlled microscope sample chamber whose purpose is to keep cells 'alive' during laser tweezer experiments.

She has used her expertise learned from courses and experience in the lab environment and has collaborated with me and several other faculty members along the way: a perfect balance of utilizing her resources. She has done top-notch work and conducted herself as a professional. Of the several universities offering her acceptance into their Ph.D. programs, the one she chooses will be lucky to have her.”


About the SAFE Fund
Initially endowed by Hughlene and Bill Frank, the College of Arts and Sciences Student and Faculty Excellence (SAFE) Fund provides resources that can be used to support undergraduate, graduate and faculty experiences. The SAFE Fund provides funding for college priorities and opportunities that arise throughout the year. These unrestricted funds support student and faculty travel, publication support for faculty and student research opportunities. Learn more at:

About the Department of Physics and Astronomy
The Department of Physics and Astronomy’s curriculum has an applied nature that includes a core of fundamental physics courses and laboratory experiences. The department prepares graduates for a variety of scientific, teaching or engineering professions, as well as future educational endeavors. Learn more at

Compiled and written by Sophia Woodall
November 3, 2021


SAFE student recipient Claire Brown, Physics and Astronomy. Photo submitted.
Published: Nov 3, 2021 3:42pm