Kayla Cline

Optimizing klystrons for cancer therapy

When LaGrange College senior math major Kayla Cline  accepted a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) position at North Carolina State University this past summer, she didn’t realize she would be the only one out of the 40 students there who had taken a MATLAB course to prepare her for what was ahead.

MATLAB is a high-level language and interactive environment for numerical computation, visualization and programming. Using it, you can analyze data, develop algorithms and create models and applications. Kayla says she had a jump on her counterparts at NC State because her LaGrange College professors offered the class.

“Some of the students in my research group I really learned from because one was a math and physics double major, and another was a math and engineering double major,” says Kayla, who is from Cartersville. “But as for MATLAB, some of the students had learned MATLAB on their own or had it as part of an undergraduate research experience, but I was the only one who had taken a class. It wasn’t a new concept to me.”

Kayla spent 10 weeks  at NC State’s REU to do research in applied mathematics. Two hundred undergraduates across the nation were chosen to participate, with 40 in math. The 40 were split into teams for nine research projects.

Kayla’s group worked with a team from Calabazas Creek Research in California to research optimization of klystron circuits, notably the Clinac  klystron used in cancer therapy.

“Klystrons are tubes that are wave amplifiers,” Kayla says. “They have applications ranging from radar to cancer therapy. Anything that has a wave probably has a klystron in it.”

When engineers build the klystrons, their wave has to be very exact, with a certain gain, power and bandwidth, which means their specifications must be precise. Kayla and her team’s job was to improve the small-signal code to include optimization of parameters, which has never been done before, and hopefully create a code in MATLAB so scientists will not have to compute wavelengths manually. Instead, they will input measurements into the team’s computer program, and their measurements will be computed for them.

Kayla’s team worked with a computer program known as AJ-Disk, which was created by Stanford University graduate Aaron Jensen, who now works at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.

“With the AJ-Disk, engineers can punch in what they think their klystrons should be built like, hit a simulator button and the AJ-Disk will tell them what their klystrons should be able to do,” Kayla says. “Right now, without the AJ-Disk, it’s just a guess. With the disk, when you punch in the numbers, it will find the optimal variables you should punch in to get the kind of klystron you want. It makes the guessing process automatic.”

Kayla joined LaGrange College graduate George Lankford at NC State, who is working toward a Ph.D. in applied mathematics. George graduated from LaGrange in 2011.

“George was the graduate student mentor in my research group, and it was great having a familiar face,” Kayla says.

George and Kayla both went to Stanford University during the summer and visited Calabazas Creek Research and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. The center’s main building is three miles long and houses a linear accelerator that is powered by 250 klystrons in a row. They also spoke with Aaron Jensen, inventor of the AJ-Disk.

At LaGrange College, Kayla’s math classes have included a calculus sequence, differential equations, linear algebra,  computational math, data-mining and MATLAB. She’s also participated in an undergraduate research math experience  of differential equations in math modeling by examining the heating and cooling systems in the college’s Lewis Library.

She highly recommends the REU, an opportunity she learned about from Drs. Stacey and Jon Ernstberger, both LaGrange College math professors. Both earned their doctoral degrees in computational mathematics from NC State and have been instrumental in preparing both Kayla and George for the NC State experience through the classes they’ve offered, their guidance through LaGrange College undergraduate research projects and their accessibility as professors, Kayla says.

Kayla says she planned on becoming a math teacher without going to graduate school until she experienced math classes at LaGrange College and NC State’s REU.

“I would like to become a math professor at a college one day, but I also really love research,” she says.  “And after grad school, I might love it even more.”

Kayla is continuing to work with her REU group via email throughout her senior year.

“There’s so much more we have to do,” she says. “For one, in the long run we hope to optimize the Clinac klystron, which is used for cancer therapy and radiation. Ultimately, we want to make the klystron smaller and more efficient, so it will be cheaper to make, and then it will be more available for hospitals to buy.”

Friends for the Journey

LaGrange College attracts the best and the brightest from all over the world. For example, our most recent incoming class consisted of men and women from 19 states and 10 countries, and included:

  • 76 members of Beta Club or the National Honor Society
  • 71 members of service organizations
  • 51 team captains in varsity sports
  • 25 leaders involved in student government, with 11 presidents
  • Three students involved in school publications, one as editor
  • Two Eagle Scouts
  • 20 musicians in band or orchestra
  • 18 singers in choir
  • 31 entertainers in performing arts
  • 85 students in religious activities.

But you don’t have to be a star in high school to succeed at LaGrange. Here, you’re given the opportunity to discover the best in yourself and find your destiny – all in a caring and supportive environment.