Physics Senior Projects

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Physics Department Advisers

Jesse Berezovsky: A Condensed Matter Experimentalist, much of my work is motivated by possible quantum computing and primarily concerns the behavior of optically excited spins near defects and in quantum nano-structures. I am also interested in acoustics. 

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

By confining an electron within a nanoscale semiconductor structure, we can study its quantum behavior in a controlled environment, which may lead to new types of computing based on quantum phenomena.  We are currently planning several experiments to understand and control the coherent dynamics of electron spins in these types of systems, and to explore the interaction of these spins with photons.  Possible projects would include: 1. Controlling the spin/photon interaction with optical resonators; 2. Developing new techniques for measuring the coherent dynamics of electron spins; 3. Studying the coupling of confined spins with a magnetic environment.

Robert Brown: An imaging / industrial physicist, I am interested in imaging and biophysics, including particularly MRI.  I am also interested in science education.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

A series of possibilities arises from our present and past work, particularly in collaboration with Professor Michael Martens (see, with emphasis on interdisciplinary collaborations, academic and industrial.  Which project depends on the student’s interest, although the final number of projects will have to be limited, of course.  Very briefly, one industrial project is to include the need to go beyond standard electrical engineering approaches to MRI coils with more fundamental electromagnetic physics modeling.  That is, at higher radiofrequencies, we need to replace lumped circuitry by more accurate descriptions via electromagnetic fields and charge/current distributions.  Another project is to partner with industry in the design and development of new high-temperature superconducting magnets in MRI in order to address the global helium shortage crisis.  On the academic side, we include physics education research where we’ve been interested in developing material for both K-12 students and university curricula.  This research is on how we learn, how it informs our teaching, and how new online and hybrid methods (combinations of online and in-class models) can be used to improve education.

Ed Caner An Entrepreneurial Physicist, I run the Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Programs (STEP) program.  I sometimes advise or co-advise students who have projects related to entrepreneurial goals and may also be able to help you connect with other advisers related to industrial or entrepreneurial projects.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Corbin Covault:  An Astrophysicis Experimentalist, my primary interests are in high energy cosmic rays including the Pierre-Auger Observatory that detects them.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Our group is active in experimental research in High Energy Astrophysics. Our major experimental effort is on the Pierre Auger Observatory which includes data collection from the completed Auger South (in Argentina) and R&D in anticipation of Auger North (to be deployed in southeastern Colorado) We are also active in two minor projects (XOSS and OSETI). Information can be found on the HEA group web page: . What all these efforts have in common is (a) they involve looking for rapid flashes of light with photomultiplier tubes, and (b) each involves extensive collaboration with scientists and students within our group and among other groups. Senior projects in our group will be developed around one of these five efforts, typically with both instrumentation and software (analysis or simulation) components.

Possible senior projects include optical calibration studies, timing measurements with GPS equipment, cosmic ray shower simulations, and detector prototyping. Our group attracts a number of undergraduates with at least eight senior projects in the past four years. There are also some opportunities for projects in distributed computing and physics education research.

Gary Chottiner: A Condensed Matter Experimentalist, my interests include surfaces and the high vacuum techniques required to study them.  I am also interested in surface behavior important to electrochemistry.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

1.  Understanding the properties and behavior of lithium is of great importance in developing better battery storage systems for a variety of purposes, and it’s often the surface rather than the bulk of the lithium component that matters in these applications.  Unfortunately, a truly clean lithium surface is extraordinarily difficult to create and sustain due to lithium’s high reactivity.  Our lab (G. Chottiner + D. Scherson of the Dept. of Chemistry) has experience in this area and may hold the record for the cleanest lithium surface ever reported.  This project will employ the ultra-high vacuum (UHV) system in Rockefeller 314 (and perhaps other UHV systems on campus) to compare various methods of producing a clean lithium surface, including ion sputtering a solid Li disk and evaporating Li from a thermally heated source.  We’ll then investigate how the surface evolves when it is intentionally contaminated with simple molecules such as nitrogen and oxygen, and possibly more complex molecules that are used in the manufacture of Li batteries.

2. One of the more useful experimental techniques in surface science is Temperature Programmed Desorption, TPD.  A mass spectrometer is used to monitor gasses that leave a surface as a sample is heated.  TPD can be used to measure the binding energy of atoms or molecules to a surface (a quantity that is critically important but difficult to measure in any other way) and, with the help of isotopically labeled gases, the reactions that can occur when molecules and atoms interact with each other on a surface.  One can’t simply purchase a TPD apparatus, it has to be constructed from individual components and the software has to be written to control the experiment and analyze the data.  Our research group has experience in this area but doesn’t currently have a fully operational TPD system.  The student who takes on this project will continue development of a TPD system started by a senior project student AY 2012-2013 and use it to examine a variety of scientifically and technologically interesting problems.

Xuan Gao: A Condensed Matter Experimentalist, I am interested in the synthesis and characterization of a variety of bulk and nanoscopic materials, including transparent conductors, topological insulators and nanoscopic systems for the sensitive detection of biological materials. 

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Suspended Nanowire Electro-Mechanical Devices

Nanoelectromechanical-systems or NEMS are sub-micron devices where the electronic characteristics are integrated with the mechanical behavior. Developing NEMS with high quality factor will allow novel devices and new tools for sensing and studying minuscular forces/displacements. In this project we will construct a NEMS device with suspended nanowire with diameter as small as 10nm. The resonant modes and quality factor of the suspended nanowire beam will be studied through electrical characterization of device at high frequencies.

Large Scale Graphene Transistor Arrays

Graphene, a single atomic sheet of carbon atoms, was recently isolated from graphite and received tremendous interest in electronics applications. The widely used mechanical exfoliation method of graphene, however, is uncontrolled and not useful for manufacturing large scale electronics. We will explore various contact printing methods for constructing large scale graphene transistor arrays. The goal is to achieve few-layer or single layer graphene transistor arrays on centimeter size silicon wafer with high yield.

Nanowire Transistors for DNA Sensing

Nanowires are emerging as novel materials for device applications. In this project we will employ nanowire transistors as sensors for biomolecule detection. The specific goal is to achieve highly sensitive and sequence specific detection of single strand DNAs. We will synthesize nanowires through a ‘bottom up’ (chemistry-based) approach and fabricate nanowire transistors using lithography techniques. Both physical adsorption and covalent bonding will be explored to attach probe peptide nucleic acid (PNA) onto nanowire surface to capture the target DNA. Electrical measurement of the nanowire transistor will be used to detect and study DNA hybridization. Effects like base mismatch between probe and target strands and charge screening in ionic solutions will be investigated as DNAs hybridize/dehybridze on nanowire surface. Students will gain experience in several research areas including material chemistry, nano-electronics, and biophysics.

Nanowire Spin-electronic Devices

Conventional electronic devices use the charge of flowing electrons to realize computation and information processing. The concept of incorporating the spin degree of freedom of electrons into the device functionality opened up a new area termed ‘spin-electronics’ (or ‘spintronics’). Much attention of forefront spintronics research has been focused on how to create and control spin polarized current in semiconductors. Recently, researchers have achieved some success in doing so in bulk or thin-films of semiconductors. In this project, we will first investigate if one can electrically create and detect spin polarized current in semiconductor nanowires by contacting nanowires with ferromagnetic metal. We will then study if an external gate voltage can be used to control the spin polarization of current to realize the ‘spin-transistor’, the most fundamental spintronic-device which has yet to be demonstrated.

Michael Hinczewski: A Biophysics and Soft Condensed Matter Theorist, I am interested in the interactions of biopolymers such as proteins and force microscopy as a probe thereof.  Previous Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Kathleen Kash: A Condensed Matter Experimentalist, I am interested in the synthesis and characterization of new materials, particularly wide-band gap nitride semiconductors, applicable for short wavelength light emitting diodes and power electronics.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Synthesis and characterization of nitride semiconductors

The semiconductors GaN, InN and AlN have seen tremendous development in the last decade, with light emitting diodes (LEDs) and laser diodes impacting numerous consumer markets. They are poised to have a major impact on solid state lighting, and are displacing silicon for high power applications. The related II-IV-nitride semiconductors like, for example, ZnGeN2, are much less well-studied, but recent research is starting to reveal some unique properties of these newer materials that might have important implications for thermoelectrics, optoelectronics and photovoltaics. A number of projects are available that deal with synthesis and characterization of these nitride semiconductors.

Michael A. Martens: Primarily a Medical Imaging Physicist, I am interested in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and a variety of other magnetic imaging modalities.  I have also worked in Experimental Particle Physics and will consider supervising a range of projects in experimental physics.  I also co-advise projects with other faculty members interested in Magnetic Resonance

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Please come talk to me.  I have wide interests in Experimental Physics and particularly Magnetic Resonance techniques.

Walter Lambrecht: A Theoretical and Computational Condensed Matter Physicist, I am interested in modeling  a variety of materials and materials properties using quantum mechanical approaches, ranging from semiconductors and defects to magnetic materials. Some projects focus on specific materials, others on methods development.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Modeling of phonons and lattice instabilities:
The electrons form the glue which binds atoms together in a lattice. From the electronic structure, we can
thus extract interatomic forces and force constants and from these we can study the vibrations of the atoms.
In this project you would learn how to apply existing computational methods to materials of interest and how they relate to Raman spectroscopy and phase transitions.

Strongly correlated electrons:
Localized electrons such as f-electrons in rare-earth elements have strong Coulomb interactions. Depending on
how many f-electrons are in a shell they can arrange themselves in different states according to their total
orbital and spin angular momentum. In this project you would learn how to calculate these splittings, called
multiplet splittings and we’ll extract the parameters entering them from atomic wave functions.  Ultimately we
want to understand how such atomic states interact with the host environment if they are incorporated in a solid as an impurity.

Harsh Mathur: A theorist with interests in both Astrophysics and Condensed Matter Physics, I have a broad-ranging interests, including effects of modified gravity, topological insulators and excitons and other bound states in condensed matter and high energy physics.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

1) Nonlinear quantum mechanics: Weinberg has proposed a generalization of quantum mechanics in which the Schrodinger equation is non-linear. The purpose of this project is to determine whether such a non-linear theory is incompatible with the other principles of quantum mechanics. [Reference: Steven Weinberg, Physical Review Letters 62, 485 (1989)].

2) Dirac equation on the surface of a sphere: The purpose of this project is to analyze the energy levels of a particle governed by the Dirac equation and confined to the surface of a sphere. Due to the curvature of the sphere and Berry’s phase it is conjectured that the particle will move as though there were a magnetic monopole at the origin. These results should be relevant to surface states of topological insulators and buckyballs. [Reference: For closely related work see A. Vishvanath, Physical Review Letters 105, 206601 (2010)].

3) Non-commutative quantum mechanics: Do the x and y components of the position of a particle commute? Some models of fundamental physics posit that they do not. A simple model with this behavior is strong magnetic field and a smooth electric potential. Classically such a particle undergoes an epicyclic motion whereby the particle moves rapidly in a circle about a guiding center whilst the guiding center slowly drifts along equipotential lines. An effective quantum theory would focus on the motion of the guiding center alone. Such an effective theory has a twist that the guiding center co-ordinates do not commute. The purpose of this project is to analyze the energy levels of a hydrogen atom in a magnetic field using the non-commutative effective theory.

4) Self-Adjoint extensions of a linear potential: The purpose of this project is to analyze the energy levels of a particle bound by a linear potential. Such a situation might be considered a crude caricature of quarks confined in a meson. In this project we will focus on possible ambiguities in the boundary conditions that must be imposed at the origin and the effect of these ambiguities on the energy levels of the model.

5) Granular matter: statistical mechanics far from equilibrium. How does stress distribute in a pack of beads to which a uniform load has been applied. A proper theoretical understanding of this basic problem is lacking. The q-model provides a good first approximate solution to the problem and is remarkably tractable. A number of exact results about the model are known, some of them first obtained by my undergraduate collaborators and myself [Lewandowska, Mathur and Yu, Physical Review E64, 026107 (2001); St. John and Mathur, submitted to Physical Review E, (2011)]. Many additional results appear attainable and remain to be worked out.

6) Factorization of non-hermitian Hamiltonians: The simple harmonic oscillator is a familiar example of a quantum mechanical Hamiltonian that is soluble by factorization into a pair of raising and lowering operators. In the 1940s Infeld discovered that a variety of common Hamiltonians can be factorized analogously. Recently there has been some interest in non-hermitian Hamiltonians with real eigenvalues. The purpose of this project is to generalize Infeld’s construction to such non-Hermitian models.

I work on quantum condensed matter physics, cosmology and particle astrophysics. Some of my representative publications may be found on the department website.
More can be found by searching at A senior project with me would likely build on one of these projects; the specific project would be worked out in consultation with the student.

Rolfe Petschek: A Condensed Matter Physicist, my primary interests are in soft condensed matter such as liquid crystals, polymers and colloids, particularly their linear and non-linear optical properties, and their ordering and self-assembly.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

I have reasonably broad interests and suggest that you simply come and speak with me.  I am presently particularly interested in how crystals and quasicrystals may form from objects that strongly orient each other but in directions different from their own.  I am also interested in electro-optical devices that use liquid crystals as the active medium and in how nanoscopic objects and patterning can modify the properties of soft matter.  But I am open to a wide variety of projects that may fit your interests in soft condensed matter, and numerical / mathematical physics.

Charles Rosenblatt:A Condensed Matter Experimentalist, I am interested in liquid crystals, including symmetry and interfacial properties, as well as phase transitions.  Much of our work is done at the nanoscopic level, often involving nanoparticle inclusions. I am also interested in fluid dynamics studied by means magnetic levitation, particularly its application in the study of fluid interface instabilities.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Soft Condensed Matter Physics

We study (sexy*) symmetry and electro and magnetooptic properties of liquid crystals, polymers, micelles, and other “soft” materials; their phases and phase transitions, interactions with nanopatterned surfaces and with nanoparticles, and use in devices. Possible projects include nanoscopic control of surfaces for fundamental studies of elastic behavior on very short length scales and for device applications, properties of liquid crystal / nanoparticle mixtures, and creation of controlled topological defect arrays. Additionally, projects may involve the role of chiral symmetry on the liquid crystal’s physical properties, including electric polarizations at an interface that arise because of symmetry considerations.

*This is to catch your attention

Simulated zero and partial gravity

We have been using magnetic levitation techniques to study the property of fluids in gravitational environments ranging from 1g down to 0g. Moreover, we can control the effective gravitational force with time, i.e., introduction of a time-varying force. Possible projects include the study of acceleration-driven fluid-fluid interface instabilities, the study of fluid flow through randomly-packed colloids, how the flow rate varies with gravity and with time, pinning and depinning behavior, and the effects of a time-varying gravitational force.

John Ruhl: An Astrophysics Experimentalist, I study the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), primarily small angle and polarization (B-mode) correlations in the CMB.  I use radiotelescopes, either near the south pole, or carried on balloons.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Projects related to radio-telescope observation of the small angle scale and polarized CMB are available.  Please come talk with me.

Ken Singer: A Condensed Matter Experimentalist, am I interested in the linear and non-linear optical behavior of a variety of materials, including high density information storage in layered polymer systems and nanoscopically assembled biological systems.  I also study organic semiconductors for transistors and solar cells and how nanoscopic materials can improve their efficiency. 

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Solar Energy: Next Generation Photovoltaic Materials
Polymers are currently receiving intense interest as the next generation materials for solar energy conversion.  My group is investigating the optical and electronic properties of these new materials.  Potential senior projects on this topic include studies of charge mobility in new self-assembling polymer blends, imaging studies of nanoscale morphology using 3-D tomographic electron microscopy and nonlinear optical near-field imaging, and studies of optical trapping and power conversion efficiency in ultrathin polymer blend films.   Students will carry out optical and electronic measurements and fabricate structures in our new solar cell fabrication laboratory.

Nonlinear Optical Materials
Nonlinear optical materials have a number of current and future applications such as tunable lasers, optical data storage, optical computing, etc.  We are looking into new polymeric and organic materials for these applications and are working on studying mechanisms and materials for nonlinear optics.  Potential senior projects include studies of nonlinear optical responses in new materials, optical second harmonic generation in multilayer polymer films, nonlinear absorption and intensity dependent refractive index measurements.  These are all laser experiments using widely tunable pulsed lasers in the Organic Optoelectronics laboratory.

Glenn Starkman: An Astrophysics / Particle Physics Theorist, I have a variety of interests, including theoretical analysis of the Cosmic Microwave Background to understand if the universe is truly infinite or if it has a non-trivial topology.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

I am willing to discuss a variety of projects in theoretical cosmology and particle physics. 

A list of Professor Starkman’s papers can be found at here.  Browsing this
list will give you a good idea of the types of problems on which I might be interested in working
with you.
Giuseppe Strangi: A Condensed Matter Experimentalist, I am interested in the design, synthesis and characterization metamaterials and other plasmonic materials.  Metamaterials are nanoscopically patterned mixtures of (some or all of) metals, crystals, nanoparticles, polymers and liquid crystals that have optical properties different from bulk materials.  They have a variety of applications, including sensitive sensors and nanoscopic imaging.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

I am willing to discuss a variety of projects including:

Stimulated Emission in Metamaterials

Metals, which are essential for many metamaterials unfortunately absorb light.  Projects are available that will study how to compensate for these losses using simulated emission from organic dyes or semiconductor nanoparticles.


The evanescent waves in some metamaterials can result in the reflection from one surface of a metamaterial being dramatically sensitive to the properties of the other surface.  Projects are available to make and characterize such sensors.

Philip Taylor: A Condensed Matter theorist I am interested in a variety of things, including batteries and fuel cells, as well as other topics, partly described in as Projects offered.

Previous Projects Supervised             Research Website

Approach to the steady state in a system of driven damped oscillators

In equilibrium, the entropy of a system is maximized.   On the other hand, when a damped system is subject to driving forces such as  a steady periodic excitation, the end point of the motion is not so obvious.  In this theoretical study computer simulations of some simple systems will be undertaken in an attempt to deepen our understanding of these issues.

Theoretical approach to the physics of batteries and fuel cells

Batteries and fuel cells work by the transfer of ions from one place to another under the influence of electric fields and concentration gradients.  In this project we will be calculating the rate at which ions can transfer by solving the transport equations that govern this process. Some of this work will involve analytical theory and some will involve using computers to obtain numerical solutions.

Equilibrium shape of a dielectric droplet in an electric field

The equilibrium shape of a dielectric droplet in a uniform electric field is determined by the competition between the effects of surface tension and of the dielectric contribution to the free energy. The surface tension favors a spherical shape for the droplet, as this corresponds to the minimum surface area, while the effects of the electric field are to elongate the droplet into a needle-shaped  form.  To find the equilibrium shape reached by a droplet in the presence of these two forces is a challenging problem that has been studied for over a century, but has resisted an exact solution.  We do, however, know that the droplet develops pointed ends at a certain critical field. In this project we will solve numerically the equations that determine the shape of the droplet in order to investigate the nature of the transition from smooth to pointed ends as the electric field is increased.

Page last modified: June 17, 2016