Fordham will soon be providing students with new hands-on learning and research opportunities in the burgeoning field of optics, thanks to a Fordham parent’s gift that will provide a new pulsed laser for the physics and engineering physics department.

Sarah Girardi, M.D., PAR ’24, made her gift last year after seeing how hands-on learning unlocked a passion for physics in her son, Anthony, now a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill. In addition to the instrumentation fund she created, which will pay for the laser, she is also establishing a fellowship to allow physics and engineering physics students to pursue independent research projects over summer break.

Sarah Girardi
Sarah Girardi (provided photo)

She knows from experience how such projects can advance a young scientist’s career.

“If it represents a really genuine interest in what you’re doing, I think there’s nothing more valuable,” she said.

The laser will be housed at the Rose Hill campus in an optics lab, now being set up, where students will explore various properties of light and their possible applications. Optics innovations in recent decades include everything from advanced medical imaging to high-speed internet service to the barcode scanners used in supermarkets.

In addition, the laser—an Nd:YAG model—will advance faculty research into polymers and other aspects of materials science, said Steve Holler, Ph.D., associate professor of physics and chair of the physics and engineering physics department.

When acquired, possibly within the year, the laser will “open up the door to look at all sorts of optical phenomena that the students otherwise don’t get exposed to,” Holler said. “Having this kind of tool … is going to be extremely important for their future careers.”

Lighting Up with a Love for Physics

Girardi well remembers a pivotal moment in her son’s time at Fordham: In sophomore year, during a visit home, he showed her some things he had made in his lab courses, including a small motorized device that changed direction in response to light.

A student aligning a laser in a lab at Fordham
A student works with one of the existing lasers–an older, smaller model–in the physics and engineering physics department. Photo courtesy of Steve Holler

Talking about his creations, he lit up himself. “He was realizing how much he loved physics,” said Girardi, a urologist practicing in Manhasset, New York.

Also important to her son’s education and career discernment, she said, were the small laboratory classes at Fordham; the personal attention from associate professor of physics Christopher Aubin, Ph.D., who guided his research; and the classroom insights provided by Martin Sanzari, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics.

Then there was the summer research grant provided by Fordham, which allowed him to conduct research in quantum physics rather than seek a paying job to help cover his expenses, as he would normally do, she said.

That made her think of other students who may also face financial obstacles to summer research, giving her the idea to fund a fellowship. “When it comes right down to it, unless they can make some money over the summer, they’re not going to be able to participate,” she said.

She was also inspired to give because of the memory of her mother, Anne Klemmer, who died in 2022. “My parents valued education over everything,” Girardi said. “And so I thought I would like to carry on that legacy.”

Scientific instruments support academic excellence at Fordham, a pillar of the University’s $350 million fundraising campaign, Cura Personalis | For Every Fordham Student. Learn more about the campaign and make a gift.


Chris Gosier is research news director for Fordham Now. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or [email protected].