In the summer of 1984 I had the great fortune to land a summer job at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. As an undergrad from the University of Southern Colorado, it was unlikely that I could possibly compete with fellows from larger schools for a position at Xerox PARC, though persistance paid off. I applied for everything in sight when an undergrad, as I was eager for experience in research. Examples? HP, JILA, NCAR, etc, anywhere interesting summer jobs were being offered, and was a general busy body. For example, I made the suggestion to the company that manufactures EAR protection that they could sell a lot of product on campuses in the country, and now you'll find their products in college book stores. Also, I suggested to Outside magazine that they should do a column on science of the outdoors, and now they have a column called the Wild Side, on just that topic. These latter two activities occurred at about the same time I was a senior undergrad physics student.
Anyway, Xerox PARC was really great for me. I was among some people that were considerably smarter and more well prepared than I was at that time, and I learned a lot. The lesson here is that if you are hungry for experience, and have a lot of motivation, don't be shy about sending your message out for consideration. I have known oodles of smart people that lack the ability to get things done, so we don't get to benefit from their potential contributions.
PARC made the first windows based computer systems, and I used them in 1984 (the Altos system). It came with a mouse and all, and had a graphical user interface. Soon it appeared on the Apple Macintosh, and I have been buying these systems ever since. One can only wonder where Xerox would be today had they jumped all over this possibility.
At PARC, I worked on theory for the radiation patterns of phased array laser diodes. I used the fast fourier transform algorithm extensively to propagate wavefields from the near field by the laser to the far field, down stream, where the laser beam can be put to work. It was an excellent opportunity to learn about phased array systems in general, so now I immediately had a good appreciation for the Very Large Array telescope used in Soccorro NM to look for radio wave emissions from universe, by use of a phased array antenna.
I had some good friends in Palo Alto, and visits from good girlfriends from Colorado, and only had a bicycle for transportation, though did rent cars on 5 occasions, some of them dates. On 4 occasions I received speeding tickets in California. Geez, being young, full of energy, and excited about everything going on was a lot of fun. I started off the summer by running out of money after paying rent at an apartment, and was seriously considering knocking off a few pigeons for a snack. The local area had fruit trees to add sustenance until pay day (about 2 weeks of eating not too much,1 jar of apple sauce,1 loaf of bread, 2 cans of tuna, and 1 large can of baked beans. It was entertaining to be out of money for awhile, though I can now appreciate what it's like. Wouldn't want to do it now.)
The conference paper that came out of this work is listed below. It of course was not Earth shattering in importance, though did serve to entertain me for quite awhile, and to educate me in ways beyond school-learning experiences. The coauthors were quite well known in the laser diode area. I only met the last two authors, the first was my advisor and boss. He took my summer work report and condensed it down to this conference proceeding document.
Paoli, T.L., W.P. Arnott, William Streiffer and Robert D. Burnham, 1985: Optical model for radiation patterns of phase-locked diode laser arrays. Digest of Technical Papers, Conference on Lasers and Electro-Optics (CLEO), 21-24 May.