Undergraduate Research Opportunities
Undergraduate majors in Physics are encouraged to become involved in the research of the faculty. Indeed, the spirit of independent research is a major part of the physical sciences in general. Some Physics majors pursue an Honors degree, and a research thesis is required in that program. Other students wish to engage in research as part of their preparation for the capstone course PHYS 4991, Physics Senior Seminar, during which a research paper must be written. The Physics Department now requires a research experience for all physics majors as part of their undergraduate degree program. Credit for undergraduate research may be earned in ASTR 301V, PHYS 306V, and PHYS 399VH.
Below are listed some of the Physics faculty who are doing research and are interested in collaborating with undergraduate majors. To learn the details of their projects, you should meet with them directly. They will be happy to learn that you may be interested in working with them.
Research Programs for Undergraduates
Investigator: Dr. Barraza-Lopez (email@example.com)
- Project 1: Transport of charge at the nanoscale
- Project 2: Theory of graphene
Investigator: Dr. Laurent Bellaiche
- Research Area: Computational and theoretical studies of the properties of ferroelectrics, multiferroics, semiconductors, magnetic compounds, and low-dimensional systems.
- Contact an academic advisor to inquire if Dr. Bellaiche is currently taking students on for research projects.
Investigator: Dr. Hugh Churchill (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Project 1: Atomically thin phase-change materials In this project, the student will seek to create a material that is only a few atoms thick and that has properties (index of refraction, electrical resistance, ...) that change along with the phase of the material under the influence of various stimuli (temperature, stretching, electric fields, ...). The project involves peeling atomic layers of materials such as GeSe from crystals, deposting those layers on a substrate, and characterizing material properties. Optical properties such as absorption and emission of light would be measured first, and a sufficiently motivated student could also learn nanofabrication techniques to conduct electronic measurements as well.
- Project 2: Laboratory electronics In our lab we make a lot of our own measuremen and control electronics for experiments (see for example http://www.opendacs.com), and in many cases they are made by the undergraduates in the lab. Current needs include a high-resolution, ultra low-noise digital-to-analog converter; a laser power controller; and a variety of opto-mechanical gizmos. These projects can be a good introduction to the research environment, but can also develop into more significant research projects involving the use of this electronic equipment to measure the properties of samples made by the student or others in the lab.
Investigator: Dr. Huaxiang Fu (email@example.com)
- Project 1: Electrons and spins in semiconductors
- The project involves studying, by computer modeling, the electronic properties, spins and magnetic properties, and optical properties of technically important semiconductors.
- Project 2: Ferroelectric and piezoelectric materials
- The project focuses on studying and understanding the physics and mechanisms that convert electricity into mechanical energy or vice versa (i.e. generation of electricity from mechanical strain).
Investigator: Dr. Julio Gea-Banacloche
- Research Area: Studying the ways in which quantum mechanical systems are different from classical ones, including quantum entanglement, quantum information, quantum computing, and quantum dots.
- Contact an academic advisor to inquire if Dr. Gea-Banacloche is currently taking students on for research projects.
Investigator: Dr. Bothina Hamad-Manasreh (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Project 1: Thermoelectric materials The goal of this project is to search for new materials with high efficiency of power generation and refrigeration using first-principle calculations. These materials are usually p- and n-type semiconductors that either harvest waste energy to convert it into electricity in a process called the Seebeck effect, or pump heat from one end to the other by applying a voltage drop (Peltier effect). The main challenge is to enhance the efficiency of these materials to be commercialized on a large scale. This can be achieved using different approaches such as engineering the band gap by substitutional doping, heterostructuring the materials by combining two different quantu wells in superlattice structures, and lowering the dimensionality.
- Project 2: Catalysis reactions on transition-metals In this project, the heterogeneous catalytic reactions of small molecules are investigated on transition-metal surfaces and nanoclusters. We analyze the adsorption of small molecules such as O and O2, CO, NO, etc. on these catalysts using the electronic structure interpretations to provide a deep understanding of the site preference for different coverages. The pathway, transition states and the energy barriers of these reactions are then determined using constrained minimization and nudge elastic band methods.
- Project 3: Magnetic structure of materials The scheme of this research is to predict the magnetic structure of materials using the density functional theory. Among these materials are Heusler alloys that exhibit a ferromagnetic half metallic behavior that can be used in spin injection, which have applications in magnetic recording media.
Investigator: Dr. William G. Harter (email@example.com)
- Project 1: Quantum and semi-classical theory of molecular rotation-vibration and nuclear
spin dynamics and spectra
- High symmetry molecules such as C60 (Buckminsterfullerene) have unusual rotational properties in gas phase and in their solid state which might be useful some day for quantum computing. In the meantime we are developing a theory of the rovibrational fine structure states for spectroscopists. Techniques involve group theory and computer simulations with recent emphasis on Fourier transform of semiclassical dynamics.
- Project 2: Quantum wave and symmetry in superlattices
- The quantum dynamics and symmetry properties of micro-electronic and photonic devices produced by MBE and other means are being investigated using their transmission spectra and electronic mobility. These are simulated using a number of different kinds of computer programs being developed here and results are compared to predictions derived using group representation theory. One of the goals is to show ways to produce faster and ultra-sensitive detectors, filters, spectral sources, and telecommunication devices.
- Project 3: Quantum control theory
- The extension of classical optimal control theory and other generalizations of variational calculus to quantum dynamics are being explored. Simulations of controlled n-level quantum systems provide the means for testing the practicality of these methods. The objective is to create extraordinary states of quantum systems like molecular rotors.
Investigator: Dr. Jin Hu (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Research Area: Dr. Hu's group aims to discover and synthesize novel quantu materials with emergent phenomena, and investigate their underlying physics.
- Project 1: Topological semimetals Topological semimetals exhibit a variety of exciting quantum properties that are promising for technological applications. This project aims to discover new topological semimetals and seek new quantum states. It involves single crystal growth, structure characterization, and low-temperature and high-field magnetotransport measurements.
- Project 2: Magnetic materials In this project, the main goal is to seek and study magnetic materials with layered cyrstal structures, and to explore the interplay between spin, charge, orbit, and valley degrees of freedom that opens the possibility for novel device concepts.
Investigator: Dr. Daniel Kennefick (email@example.com)
- Project 1: Black Holes and Galaxy Morphology and Structure Measureing the pitch angle of spiral arms of disk galaxies to study the role of spiral structure in galactic structure and evolution, especially the demography of supermassive black holes.
- Project 2: Gravitational waves from black hole binaries Developing computer codes to model the gravitational wave signals from binary systems containing supermassive black holes.
- Project 3: History of 20th centure Astrophysics and Relativity Aspects of the development of Astrophysics in the past century.
Investigator: Dr. Julia Kennefick (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Project 1: The Properties and Environments of Nearby Galaxies
- Project 2: Quantifying selection effects and biases in the detection and measurement of galaxies at moderate redshifts.
Investigator: Dr. Pradeep Kumar (email@example.com)
- Project 1: Polymerization kinetics of FtsZ at extremes of pressure and temperature The project involves investigation of understanding polymerization of FtsZ, a key protein required in cell division in bacteria, at high pressure and temperature.
Investigator: Dr. Bret Lehmer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Research Area: My research group uses multiwavelength observations to study how populations of accreting neutron stars and black holes (including X-ray emiting binary stars and active galactic nuclei) evolve throughout the history of the Universe along with their host galaxies.
- Contact Dr. Lehmer to see if he is currently taking students on for research projects.
Investigator: Dr. Jiali Li (email@example.com)
In the projects described below, the undergraduate student will work with graduate students or postdoctoral associates in the lab.
- Project 1: Nanostructure fabrication
- This project involves photolithography on silicon wafers and ion beam sputtering techniques.
- Project 2: Single DNA or protein analysis with a solid-state nanopore sensor
- This project involves a single-channel recording technique and singlemolecule biophysics.
Investigator: Dr. Lin Oliver (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Project 1: Pressure dependence of the glass-transition temperature of prototypic glass formers This project involves determining the pressure dependence of the glass transition temperature of prototypic glass formers using temperature controlled diamond anvil cells, optical microscopy, and ruby fluorescence techniques. Furnaces and cryogenic equipment are used to vary temperature from about 6 K to 600 K and diamond anvil cells enable pressures as high as 10 GPa (100,000 atm) or more.
- Project 2: Light scattering studies of metastable liquids and the glass transition Various combinations of sophisticated laser light scattering experiments are used in these studies to probe metastable supercooled liquids and glasses under extreme conditions of very high pressure. Light scattering techniques include photon correlation spectroscopy (PCS), Brillouin light scattering (BLS), and depolarized light scattering (DLS). The combination of these techniques yield important dynamic information of these systems, e.g., they enable us to study changes in the molecular motions of these systems over many decades of dynamic range from picoseconds to tens of seconds.
Investigator: Dr. Gregory J. Salamo (email@example.com)
- Project 1: Nonlinear Optics
- Measurement of the nonlinear optical properties of semiconductors as their size is varied from microscale to nanoscale.
- Project 2: Bio-physics
- (a) Measurements designed to discover the mechanism for the opening and closing of biological pores and their function
- (b) Measurement of the performance of different parts of a drug delivery system to fight cancer and other diseases
- Project 3: Nanoscience
- Measurement of the size, shape, composition, and organization of nanoscale structures as a function of growth parameters
Investigator: Dr. Woodrow Shew (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Project 1: Decision making with noisy brain circuits: a computer model study
Experiments that measure brain activity in response to sensory input show that even for a precisely repeated sensory stimulus, the neurons respnd in a highly variable way. This raises a fundamental question about how the brain works: How is it that our perceptions of sensory input are so reliable when the neural activity that underlies these perceptions are so unreliable? The student working on this project uses a computer model of a network of many neurons to study how changes in interactions among the neurons affects the variability/reliability of response to incoming stimuli. The goal is to identify ways that the neural system can optimize its ability to discriminate different stimuli in spite of the noisy response properties of neural networks.
- Project 2: Automated discovery of the building blocks of behavior
Brain disorders, such as autism, are diagnosed partly based on the existence of abnormally repetitive body movements (like arm flapping, rocking, etc.). The causes of such abnormal behaviors lie in abormal neural activity, but are not well understood. One strategy to gain deeper understanding is to study animals with genetic alterations which mimic those found in autistic humans. The student working on this project will use a 3D motion capture system to precisely record the body movements of rodent models of autism and develop new data analysis algorithms (using Matlab) to quantify and categorize the abnormal behaniors of these animals. The goal is to come up with ways to quantitatively assess the degree of repetitive body movements in these animals and how this differs compared to normal animals.
Investigator: Dr. Surendra Singh (email@example.com)
Projects: A variety of topics in quantum and classical optics and laser physics are being pursued. Examples include experimental and theoretical investigations of quantum and classical photon statistics of light in nonlinear optical processes, polarization and phase properties of laser modes, and generation and application of different types of laser modes.
Investigator: Dr. Paul Thibado (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Project 1: Stochastic Dynamics of Freestanding Monolayers (Theory and Experiment) Freestanding monolayer materials, like graphene, are constantly in motion at room temperature. They also have a rippled structure similar to an egg carton, and an individual ripple can spontaneously invert its curvature from concave to convex. We perform molecular dynamics simulations and scanning tunneling microscope experiments to learn more about what controls the stochastic dynamic properties of monolayer materials.
- Project 2: Harvesting Energy from Naturally Occurring Vibrations (Theory and Experiment) When ripples in freestanding monolayers invert their curvature, thousands of atoms move together, coherently, in the same direction. This discovery open up the possibility of converting the atoms' kinetic energy (coming from their thermal motion) into stored electrical charge. We simulate this process to estimate the amount of power that can potentially be harvested from the motion. We are also building various vibration energy harvesting devices to test these predictions.
Investigator: Dr. Yong Wang (email@example.com)
Research Area: Dr. Wang and his students work at the interface between physics, nanotechnology, and biology. We build and utilize cutting-edge biophysical tools to study various biological systems, ranging from single DNA and protein molecules to single bacterial or animal cells.
- Project 1: Diffusion of bacteria in fluids and porous media. This project applies physics to understand the behavior of bacteria, which inhabit naturally in aqueous solutions, complex fluids, or fluid-filled porous media. Migration and mobility of bacteria in these media play essential roles for bacterial health, growth and survival. Therefore, it is of great interest to investigate the motion and diffusion of bacteria in various environments. Undergraduate students will learn to use fluorescence microscopy to track individual E. coli cells in both aqueous solutions and porous media, observe Levy-walk-like motions of bacteria, measure the trajectories, quantify the displacements and step sizes, and estimate the diffusional behaviors of bacteria. Students will also perform statistical analyses among large numbers of bacteria, and compare differences between bacteria in fluids and in porous media. This project will provide participants hands-on training on both experimental and computational/analytical skills.
- Project 2: Mechanics of biological macromolecules. Mechanics is not only one of the most important fundamental areas in physics, but it is also important in biology. It is tightly coupled to the function of biological macromolecules. This project focuses on the mechanics of DNA and protein molecules. Undergraduate students will contribute to various experiments as well as computational simulations to understand how mechanical energies affect protein-DNA interactions and how the activity and functionality of proteins can be controlled mechanically using forces. This project will also provide participants hands-on training on both experimental and computational/analytical skills.
Investigator: Dr. Reeta Vyas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Project 1: Higher order gaussian modes of lasers
- Project 2: Nonclassical effects in parametric oscillators
- Project 3: Photon statistics of microcavity lasers
Investigator: Dr. Min Xiao (email@example.com)
- Project 1: Atomic coherence effects in multi-level atomic systems The project involves experimental and theoretical investigations of optical coherence effects in multi-level atomic media. When a multi-level atomic medium interacts with near-resonant laser beams, its linear optical absorption and dispersion, as well as Kerr nonlinear, properties can be significantly modified. By making use of such modified linear/nonlinear indices of refraction, we can study many interesting effects, including the generation of multi-wave mixing processes, construction of optical lattices, and nonlinear soliton propagation.