Leon Bakker: A colorful MSc and PhD project

I started my MSc graduation project in April 1996 within the Group elementary processes in Gas discharges. At that time, Gerrit Kroesen had just received the STW "Pionier" prize and virtually everything was possible. Every good idea (and even the not-so-good ones, in hindsight) was received with enthusiasm and was enabled financially and technically. I very much appreciated the freedom that I got in determining the direction of my graduation and PhD project.

What started with a simple idea, influencing the discharge in a fluorescent lamp to change its color, ended up in a dedicated set-up of approximately 3 cubic meters of lasers, horizontal and vertical (!) optical tables, a laser beam going through twenty (20) prisms, a cell with highly reactive sodium vapor (of which the first version exploded in our home made oven), the best ICCD camera available at that time, and counting only one photon per second while completely destroying more than 500 liters of one of the most stable laser dye solutions. Somehow, we eventually managed to measure the electron velocity distribution in a lamp that we invented ourselves.

In other words, crazy ideas, excellent support in building the set-up, long hours, but eventually the glory of being the first to accomplish it. Combined with the fun with colleagues, the traditionally lengthy coffee breaks in the morning and the afternoon in which we discussed the news and any other business, I look back on a great time.

Leon Bakker, Shanghai, June 2011