As a 28-year-old doctoral candidate in physics at Alabama A&M University, Ross Fontenot has achieved accomplishments that would likely be considered enviable even by seasoned professors and researchers.
The Lafayette, La., native and self-described lover of warmer climates tracks his first real interest in physics back to his high school days. That gripping attraction spurred him onward to an undergraduate degree from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, where he also completed his master’s degree.
What brought about the AAMU connection, however, was his intense material science work in the area of triboluminescence (TL), a way of emitting light on impact that could offer wide-ranging applications. Turns out, his master’s adviser was none other than William Andrew Hollerman, a talented TL researcher who had completed his own Ph.D. in applied physics at AAMU in 1996. Dr. Hollerman was advised at AAMU by Dr. Lawrence Holland, while Dr. Mohan Aggarwal, who currently and ably heads the physics program on "The Hill," served on Hollerman’s dissertation committee.
The chain of succession propelled him back to AAMU, where he extends his list of influences to include the guru Aggarwal and the energetic and knowledgeable Kamala Bhat. Thus, it becomes readily understandable that such influence would
lead to the publication of nearly 20 articles in major research journals, including the notable Materials Today and Journal of Theoretical and Applied Physics.
If Fontenot had an interest in TL while at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, no doubt that interest escalated into a passion while under Bhat, who not only directs his research and serves on his dissertation committee, but whose enthusiasm about TL research permeates any given room.
"If you are able to capture the light," excitedly explains Bhat, "you can tell where it hit and how hard it hit. The ultimate usefulness of TL research can run the gamut from fun applications (coating a golf ball with material that enables it to light up after striking) to defense, biomedical and even environmental applications."
Fontenot adds that TL research also could play a key role in determining, through materials and sensors, the integrity of important structures, such as bridges and overpasses, or even the onset of earthquakes.
A two-time recipient of a NASA fellowship from the Alabama Space Grant Consortium, Fontenot credits the Ph.D. program’s "interesting courses," flexibility and freedom for much of his ability to be so prolific in his published research. He also has presented his research at major conferences, among them the International Conference on Luminescence in Ann Arbor, Mich.
As Fontenot remains busy completing his doctoral requirements and applying for a variety of positions and post-docs at a few universities in addition to posts at national labs, (such as Oak Ridge, Lawrence Livermore, Air Force Research Lab, Army Research Lab and the National Institute of Standards and Technology), the chances are highly favorable that he will one day strike the interest of yet another prospective Normalite, spreading light on the AAMU legacy among future generations.
by Jerome Saintjones
Fontenot (c) with (l-r) Drs. Mohan Aggarwal and Kamal Bhat.