Special Project Ideas

Fall term is a good time to engage in research projects, and it’s not too early to start them sophomore year. We highly recommend that you do one, as do most students who have tried them. If you take one, you will learn something about actually doing Physics and Astronomy research, which will help guide you in decisions about “life after Carleton.” To lure you, we list numerous suitable projects below. The descriptions here are very brief; talk to us to us to explore more fully those projects that interest you and to be sure that we have not already promised a particular project to someone else.

Please note that these are offered only on S/Cr/NC basis since it is very difficult to assign grades to independent and cooperative projects. Special projects are for 2 to 3 credits and you will need to complete a special project form that will get deposited with the registrar. Independent studies can be 1 to 6 credits, and again you need to complete a special form. You can pick up a copy from Trenne Fields, Olin 331 or get one online under the Physics and Astronomy Department web page >> Student Resources >>Forms.

Marty Baylor

Special Projects in Physics

My research focuses on developing holographic photopolymers for integrated optofluidic devices. I have several sub-projects occurring in parallel. Several projects involve measuring and controlling the properties of my light-sensitive polymer. Additional projects involve building miniaturized devices such as tiny refractometers and spectrometers using this special polymer. Please contact me via email (mbaylor@carleton.edu) if you are interested in this work which combines physics, chemistry, optics, and engineering! No prior coursework or research experience is required, only an eagerness to learn and delve into hands-on experimental work.

Cindy Blaha

Special Projects in Astrophysics

I have several projects to share with students who are interested in astronomical research and observation. Please come and talk to me if you are interested in working on these projects.

Evolutionary History of Galaxies: Interested in finding out how stars and gas interact to affect the life of a galaxy? Massive stars and the gas they ionize play an integral role in shaping the evolutionary history of a galaxy. Recently we’ve been working identifying the ionized hydrogen regions in spiral galaxies M31 and M33, spiral neighbors of our own Milky Way. Optical observations were acquired for three large fields in M33 and ten fields in M31. Each field has a set of B, V and R (blue, green and red) broadband images as well as three images taken through narrow interference filters centered on specific emission lines of ionized hydrogen, sulfur and oxygen. Using all these images together, we are trying to compare the galactic “life history” of M31 and M33. Data analysis will involve use of the Image Reduction and Analysis Facility (IRAF) and other image processing software on several operating systems.

Carleton's CCD Project: I am also involved with developing educational materials for our set of eight CCD (Charge Coupled Device) cameras as well as the new spectrometer and video cameras. This equipment is used on our 8" and 16" telescopes and allows us to record digital observations of astronomical objects and analyze them with a wide variety of software packages for image processing. We will continue to experiment with our CCD cameras, spectrometer and computers to develop observational labs and independent research projects ranging from lunar imaging and compositional analysis to determining the age of stellar clusters.

Melissa Eblen-Zayas

Special project ideas

The special projects I have fall into two categories: condensed matter physics (or materials science) projects and applied physics projects in sustainability. Anyone, including first-year students, is welcome to talk with me about getting involved. No previous experience is needed; the only pre-requisites are curiosity and enthusiasm for doing hands-on work.

Exploring colossal magnetoresistive (CMR) materials: Correlated electron materials, where strong electron interactions give rise to unusual behavior, include high temperature superconductors and CMR materials. We are interested in the latter, which exhibit a huge resistance change in response to applied magnetic fields. The material we study (doped europium oxide) is not naturally occurring, so we fabricate samples in the ultra-high vacuum chamber in our lab. We are interested in exploring the relationship between how we fabricate the materials and the nature of the CMR response.

Electrode materials for high yield water electrolysis: One approach for storing energy provided by wind or solar generators is via hydrogen produced by electrolysis. I'm working with a couple of colleagues to explore the feasibility of using magnetite electrodes for hydrogen production. Magnetite is appealing because it is contained in taconite, which is mined on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota. We are focused on developing magnetite electrodes and exploring how impurities in those electrodes impact the amount of hydrogen produced.

Energy efficient communities: We will explore systems approaches to sustainable design of energy efficient buildings, with a focus on researching the feasibility of a net-zero energy warming hut for the Bald Spot. This special project is aimed at students with interests in engineering, environmental studies, and sustainable design.  Other opportunities for community-based renewable energy and energy efficiency projects are also available, depending on student interests and backgrounds.

Eric Hazlett

My research focuses on trapping atoms with lasers to explore the excitement/mysteries of quantum mechanics.  The goal is to produce a Bose-Einstein condensate of Rb atom and trap it in a ring trap made from a hollow laser beam. Now this project is just starting up so there will be a lot of construction and design of lasers, electronics, and infrastructure of the lab and experiment.   There will be lots of optics and electronics work. No course requirements are needed.  There are a couple of openings for projects for  this fall term, but more will be open for winter and spring.  Please email me (ehazlett@carleton.edu) if you are interested.


Arjendu Pattanayak

There are two fronts to my research. 

(A) The older track tries to understand the behavior of quantum nonlinear systems, focusing on the role of decoherence and the difference between quantum and classical systems, including things like how entanglement depends on dynamics, and how you might be able to control quantum behavior. The work is both analytical and computational, and some students going with few assumptions about their background. I prefer working with juniors (or seniors) but several sophomores and some first-year students have done really well in my groups. I do like a long-term commitment -- for at least 2 terms. Travel to conferences to report on results is very likely. More information is on my research web page at http://www.people.carleton.edu/~apattana/Research.

(B) The other newer track is a somewhat of a change in direction for me. I have been thinking about energy issues for a while, and I have one idea about how to open a research front on 'micro-energy harvesting' (googling that phrase would be a good start to understanding what it means). I would be happy to get started on this with any student that cares to learn about this with me.


Bill Titus

Special Projects in Physics

Visualization of Quantum Scattering in One Dimensional:  This theoretical/computational project involves exploring ways of visualizing the one-dimensional, quantum mechanical scattering of a wave packet from a potential.  A basic background in Mathematica and quantum mechanics is required.

Numerical Determination of the Gravitational Field of a Cylinder: The gravitational field of a finite cylinder is of interest in both geology, as a model of subsurface objects, and in physics, where hollow cylinders are used to determine precise values of G, the universal gravitational constant.  In lieu of using complicated analytical expressions that exist for the field, this project involves finding suitable field expressions by numerically integrating simple analytical expressions.  A basic background in Mathematica and some C programming is required.  Calculus III is also a requirement. This position is already filled.

Gravitational Field Determination using a Surface Integral: Gravitational fields from simple objects are used in geophysics as models of subsurface objects.  This project involves finding fields from objects like spheres and rectangular prisms by using a formulation involving an appropriate surface integral.  Calculus III and a basic background in Mathematica are required.

Joel Weisberg

Special Project in Astrophysics

Pulsar and General Relativity Research: Pulsars are rapidly spinning (up to 700 times per second!) neutron stars that are born in supernovas. My students, colleagues, and I use data from the giant radiotelecopes in Arecibo, PR, Green Bank, WV, and Parkes, Australia for a variety of pulsar and general relativity projects.   We are studying Einstein's General Theory of Relativity by carefully observing the orbit and pulseshape of a binary pulsar, observing other pulsars to try to understand the  underlying emission mechanism; and measuring the density, turbulence, and magnetization of the interstellar medium by watching its effects on pulsar signals. The projects involve the use of unix, fortran, IDL, and C programs to plan the observations and to analyze the data we collect on these objects.   We would start by studying pulsars in general and learning the various software; then slowly ramping up through the year to more and more sophisticated analyses of pulsar data.  Astrophysics I or II is a suggested prerequisite but we can be flexible.

Mark Zach

Special projects in 3D printing and machine design

I have several special project opportunities involving 3D printing.  Contact me if you are interested in getting involved.

Process Optimization
Our current 3D printer is a Makerbot Thing-O-Matic with a couple of significant modifications.  This is a FFF (Fused Filament Fabrication) printer which means that it makes parts by extruding a small strand of molten plastic that it lays down layer-by-layer to build up a complete part.  The part starts as a digital computer model which is processed by a series of software modules into simple instructions that are then carried out by the printer.  In addition to the digital model, the software takes as input several dozen parameters which influence how the printer code is generated.  There are also a dozen or more hardware and material characteristics that can influence the quality of the final product.  Not surprisingly, these parameters can interact making it challenging to understand the influence of each on the final outcome.  Projects in process optimization would attempt to understand how these parameters affect the process and use this knowledge to improve the quality and speed of printing.

Building a 3D Printer

Our Makerbot is a good little printer, but it has several limitations that constrain the quality and speed with which we can print.  Some might suggest we could buy a new and better 3D printer, but that is not the way of the shop.  Instead we are now beginning the process of designing and building our own 3D printer.  This will be a Cartesian three-axis FFF printer, much like our existing Makerbot, but it will be more precise, safe and robust and will allow us to incorporate a few additional features.  Initially this project will provide opportunities for mechanical, electrical and software design.  Once the design is complete, there will be much work to do in the building of the printer.

Also note, if you have a special interest in technical writing, all of the work described above would benefit from thorough documentation.  Suitable space for this can be made available on the Instrument Shop web site.