Faculty Research Award Recipients

John Harlander
Dr. John Harlander, Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Engineering Science (Photo taken by Neil Andersen, University Photographer)

2005: John Harlander

On August 31, 2005, John Harlander, Professor of Physics, Astronomy and Engineering Science, was awarded the 2004-2005 College of Science and Engineering (COSE) Faculty Research Award.  The Faculty Research Award was established in the academic year 1997-1998.  The purpose of the award is recognize outstanding contributions to research during a faculty member’s appointment at St. Cloud State University (SCSU).  Each year faculty from COSE are invited to nominate a colleague or themselves for the award.  Previous award recipients are not eligible for future research awards.  However, previous nominees may be, and are encouraged, to be re-nominated for the research award.

Award criteria includes a faculty member’s collaboration with and support of student researchers, dissemination of research results (publications and presentations), external recognition of the quality of research activities and service to the professional community.  The COSE Applied Research Committee selects the recipient of the research award and forwards their recommendation to the Dean’s Office for approval.

Prior Interests and Education
Harlander received his Masters and Ph.D. degrees in Physics.  However, his undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Arts in Music.  Following in the musical steps of his Grandmother (father’s side) and Grandfather (mother’s side) who were a classical pianist and jazz pianist, respectively, Harlander eagerly started taking piano lessons in second grade.  As his talent was apparent at a young age, he began playing at church at the age of 12 and professionally in clubs at the age of 14.   

As an undergraduate, Harlander majored in music with an emphasis in jazz piano.  During this time he played in various jazz, pop, and variety bands.  In his junior year he enrolled in the general education physics course “The Science of Musical Sound.”  He soon added a minor in Physics and after graduation spent a year working as a musician at night and taking upper division Physics courses by day.  He also did some adjunct teaching in Physics which convinced him to pursue an academic career in Physics.  As for changing careers from a musician to a physicist (but still including music within his life) Harlander states that, “The life of a physicist sounded more interesting than the life of a musician.” 

Research Interests
Harlander has been employed by SCSU since 1991.  In addition, from 1992 to 2001 he held an Honorary Fellow appointment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and during the 2001-2002 academic year was an ASEE Sabbatical Fellow at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C.  Harlander’s primary research expertise is in designing, building and deploying extremely sensitive optical spectrometers that are used in astrophysics and in remote sensing of planetary atmospheres. 

In 1991, Harlander and collaborator Professor Frederick Roesler of the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed a new and novel optical technique called Spatial Heterodyne Spectroscopy (SHS) for which they were awarded the patent “Spatial Heterodyne Spectrometer and Method.”  Compared to other spectrometers, SHS instruments are more sensitive when measuring faint sources of light and more forgiving of alignment errors.  These features make SHS particularly attractive in applications requiring a small instrument and/or one that must operate in a harsh environment such as space.  Harlander has designed and helped to build spectrometers that have been launched aboard sounding rockets, attached to large telescopes at national observatories, flown on the Space Shuttle and will soon be in orbit on a small satellite. 

In conjunction with collaborators at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. and at the University of Wisconsin, and with funding from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF), Harlander has developed a family of SHS instruments collectively called SHIMMER (Spatial Heterodyne IMager for MEsospheric Radicals).  SHIMMER is a space borne ultraviolet (UV) spectrometer designed for the investigation of photochemistry and dynamics in the middle atmosphere.  The instruments measure hydroxyl (OH) emissions originating within a layer of the Earth’s atmosphere called the mesosphere.  The mesosphere is very dry, cold (-193 F°) region that is located above the Earth’s stratosphere between approximately 30 to 50 miles above the ground. 

The first generation proof-of-concept SHIMMER instrument successfully flew aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis in October, 2002.  The second generation SHIMMER instrument, scheduled for a satellite launch in late 2006, will measure OH over the tropics and subtropics for at least one year.  As part of the SHIMMER instrument, the satellite will carry a monolithic UV interferometer in which all the optical components are optically contacted (joined without adhesives) using fused silica spacers to form a robust single piece of glass.

Two recent examples of articles published by Harlander and collaborators include an invited paper for a 2004 Optics and Photonics News journal titled “Spatial Heterodyne Spectroscopy for High Spectral Resolution Space-Based Remote Sensing” and an article titled “Robust Monolithic Ultraviolet Interferometer for the SHIMMER Instrument on STPSat-1” which was featured on the cover of a 2003 Applied Optics journal. 

Success with Students
Over the past several years, Harlander has mentored nine undergraduate students and supervised eight student research projects culminating in local and regional presentations.  Todd Stanley, one of Harlander’s recent undergraduate research students, was the awarded the inaugural Best Poster Award at the 2005 SCSU Student Research Colloquium.  The success of his close student-faculty interactions is evidenced by his students succeeding in graduate programs at Princeton University, University of California-Berkeley and University of Wisconsin-Madison. 

Huan Tran, an undergraduate research student of Harlander’s who graduated from SCSU in 1995 with a degree in Physics, earned a Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University in 2002 and is currently a scientist at the University of California-Berkeley in the cosmic microwave background group.  Tran describes his undergraduate experience with Harlander as, “My research with John started me on an incredible career.  It was very rare for an undergraduate like me to be given the opportunities and responsibilities that John's many projects presented.  Working with him gave me a solid backing in research, something that no classroom was able to do.  As my first mentor, he set the tone for the rest of my career in Physics.  Every time that I have to mentor a new student, I remember his dedication to helping me, keen insights, vast experience in optics, and especially his infinite patience.”

Additional Scholarly Achievements
In addition to his activities as a researcher and mentor, Harlander has completed the following since 1991:

  • Published seven refereed journal articles in some of the most prestigious journals in his field.
  • Published 15 conference proceedings.
  • Presented two invited papers that resulted in publications.
  • Presented 11 contributed papers.
  • Received external grants and various contracts, from such agencies as NSF and NASA, totaling $570,000.  Of that sum, $190,000 has been awarded since 2002. 
  • Served as a referee for international journals.
  • Served as a proposal reviewer and on review panels for national funding agencies.
  • Served as co-chair of organizing committee for national meetings.
  • Served as the Secretary/Treasurer and President of the Minnesota Chapter of the Optical Society of America.

He is also currently a Co-Principal Investigator on a grant titled “Collaborative Research:  Development and Application of an Innovative Optical Spectrometer for Investigation of Diffuse OII (interstellar ionized oxygen) Emission from the Interstellar Medium.”  The 2003-2005 proposal, which was funded by NSF, will bring $91,300 of external support to SCSU and support undergraduate research students.

Professor Roesler of the University of Wisconsin-Madison states, “I think he [Harlander] well deserves this award.  He is, in my estimation, the real world leader in SHS spectroscopy.  While he was a graduate student with me he quickly caught onto the principles of spectroscopic instrumentation that I was able to provide, and after we fell upon the SHS concept, he quickly surpassed me in the detailed understanding of what turns out to be an elegant, yet difficult to understand technique.  Now the major innovations come from him.  His excellence at teaching carries over to his technical presentations, where he explains difficult concepts with clarity to his growing list of collaborators.” 

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