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.
Special Projects in Physics
I have several ongoing research projects for students interested in optics. Please contact me if you are interested in any of these projects. No prior coursework or research experience is required, only an eagerness to learn and delve into hands-on experimental work.
Optical signal processing: We are in the process of assembling an optical system that can separate mixed audio signals (e.g., what is recorded by a microphone at a cocktail party). Once the system is working, we will explore the capabilities and limitations of this system. This project will expose students to electrical engineering, programming, statistical signal processing, linear algebra, and precision optical alignment. For this project, I am looking for students committed to working long-term.
Holographic photopolymers and optofluidic devices: This project has several sub-projects occurring in parallel. Many of the current projects involve measuring and controlling the properties of my holographic photopolymer. Additional projects involve building refractometers and exploring other devices that involve optics and fluids that we might be able to miniaturize using my polymer. The possibility for short-term and long-term projects exists.
Lab development: I am interested in developing optics labs for use in upper-division optics courses. This project is ideal for a student who wants a short-term, hands-on project in optics (1-2 terms), but is not ready to commit to working into the summer.
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.
Special Projects in Physics
I have several ongoing projects that involve experimental studies of materials with fascinating electrical and magnetic properties. Anyone, including first-year students, is welcome to talk with me about getting involved. No previous experience is needed; the only pre-requisites are enthusiasm for doing hands-on work and curiosity about solid state physics.
Exploring colossal magnetoresistive (CMR) materials: These correlated electron materials exhibit a huge resistance change in response to applied magnetic fields that is associated with a transition from semiconducting to metallic behavior. These materials are not naturally occurring, and we fabricate them in the ultra-high vacuum chamber in our lab. We are interested in exploring the relationship between the growth parameters used when fabricating the materials and the nature of the CMR response.
Materials to Address Energy Challenges: I’m looking for students who are interested in alternative energy and environmental issues to help me develop curricular labs for ENTS and physics courses. The nature of these hands-on projects will be determined, to some extent, by student interests, but may include testing solar energy conversion technologies, analyzing small scale energy harvesting systems, or exploring green building materials.
Special Project in Astrophysics
In my research, I use a combination of ground-based radar and satellite photography (from instruments like NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera) to study the role of impact cratering on a variety of surfaces in our Solar System. Specifically, I use the radar transmitter at Arecibo Observatory and the receiving capability of the Green Bank Radio Telescope to create high-resolution radar images (One of my collaborators, Dr. Bruce Campbell, explains the basics of the data-taking process here).
Impact cratering is the most common geologic process in the Solar System, affecting the ongoing development of terrestrial planets, asteroids, and icy bodies. Understanding the physics of the impact process, therefore, is essential to understanding the geology of these bodies. Impact craters are extraordinarily high-energy events. The impact energy of a 14-km sized crater on the Earth (with a frequency of about one occurrence every million years) is roughly equivalent to the combined energy that would be released by the simultaneous detonation of the world’s combined nuclear arsenal!1 Because of the extreme energy involved in most impact events, a variety of interesting physics is required to understand the cratering process, from shock wave propagation and fracture mechanics to high -pressure thermodynamics. Impact craters also provide a record of billions of years of bombardment history, an important tool for judging surface age and constraining the dynamical evolution of the Solar System.
The radar remote sensing component of my work has numerous connections to electricity and magnetism. The theory of scattering of electromagnetic waves allows us to make inferences about physical properties of the scattering surface, such as the size and distribution of radar scatterers or the relative abundance of radar absorbing materials. In conjunction with photographic data, I use this information to propose and constrain geologic histories that could give rise to the observed surface properties. For example, in the past I have used radar maps to identify buried, block-rich deposits produced by high-speed flows of material initiated by a specific type of impact cratering on the Earth’s moon.
I am looking for interested students to assist in projects analyzing radar and other remote sensing datasets to constrain the flux of small bodies (diameters of a few to ten meters) impacting the Earth’s moon over the last 100 million years. The flux of these small bodies is an important variable when it comes to measuring the ages of young surfaces in the Solar System. For example, this work could help constrain the ages of potentially active or geologically recently active gullies and streaks on Mars. In the course of this work, students could expect to gain familiarity using the IDL software package (with some minimal coding), as well as extensive use of NASA’s Planetary Data System, an online archive of NASA mission data (e. g., optical photographs, thermal imaging, elevation models, and a variety of other datasets).
I am also looking for students interested in helping to develop and test IDL code that would automatically identify and measure impact craters in image data. Currently, researchers count and measure these features by hand—a subjective and time-consuming process. The development of automatic counting software would help alleviate this burden and has a wide range of applications in planetary science. In the course of this project, students would work extensively in IDL, gaining familiarity with image processing techniques such as two-dimensional Fourier transforms and image pyramiding. Some previous experience with IDL would be helpful, but is not essential.
All interested students should contact Kassie at email@example.com, stop by her office in Olin 317, or, of course, both.
Special Project in Physics
There are two fronts to my research.
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. 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 recently several first-year and sophomore students have done really well. 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.
The other newer track is a somewhat of a change in direction for me. I plan to go on sabbatical in '13-14 and to use that time to learn about and start doing what I can to contribute to 'micro-energy harvesting' (googling that phrase would give you pretty much the same things I could give you). I am interested in learning more about this over '12-'13 in preparation and would be happy to be part of a reading group along with any student that cares to learn about this with me.
Special Projects in Physics
My recent research focus has been on the theoretical aspects of testing Lorentz symmetry, which is the symmetry underlying special relativity. Tests of such fundamental symmetries have the potential to provide experimental information to guide the merge of General Relativity and the Standard Model of particle physics into a single quantum-consistent theory. Though the motivation sounds quite technical, there is a relatively large space of interesting projects that can be, and have been, pursued by undergraduates. The possibilities span a variety of areas of physics and styles of investigation, from paper and pencil theory to computer-aided data analysis. I’ve commented more specifically on two projects below, but other options could be considered as well. If you’re interested, please talk to me. A major triennial meeting will take place this summer at which results could be presented.
Gravimeter Data Analysis: Gravimeters are devices that measure the gravitational field of the Earth. They can be used to measure a number of geophysical effects as well as deviations from Newtonian gravity. The project would consist of analyzing data from such devices to provide improved sensitivities to possible Lorentz-symmetry violations.
Hamiltonian for Atomic Physics: The test framework used to investigate Lorentz symmetry consists of equations relevant for high-energy investigations, while many of the relevant experiments are low-energy in nature and are most easily investigated using the tools of nonrelativistic quantum mechanics and classical mechanics. Getting the low-energy tools from the high energy ones requires some theoretical work, which would constitute one phase of the project. A second phase could consist of applying them to a relevant experimental system.
Special Projects in Physics
Tides: Last spring, then senior physics major Sam Whitten, wrote a Mathematica program to calculate the time dependence of the gravitational force per mass on an object located on the earth surface at a specific latitude and longitude due to the moon and sun. The code uses astronomical approximation for the locations of the moon, sun, and earth that were generated around 50 years ago. I would like to have a student update those approximations and see how they effect the tidal predictions. This project requires programming skills in Mathematica and a love, or at least a tolerance, for digging through astronomical literature. A background in astronomy would also be helpful.
Gravitational Field from a Polyhedral: As part of an analysis project for gravity inversion in 3D, I would like to find someone willing to start to write a Mathematica program that will calculate the gravitational field due to a constant density polyhedral. The starting point would be an existing 2D version of the program for polygons. This project requires digging through the scientific literature to see what has already been done, programming skills in Mathematica, and good 3D visualization abilities.
Time Evolution of Fractal Aggregates: Here’s an opportunity for you to combine your photography interests with the dynamical and mathematical study of the time evolution of clusters of particles that aggregate together. I’m interested in obtaining high quality time-lapse digital photographs of how these clusters attract one another and how the clusters develop in time. A background in photography and an interest in fractal geometry and fluid dynamics would be helpful.
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, finally spending a month at the Australia Telescope National Facility near Sydney, Australia starting in late July. Astrophysics I or II is a suggested prerequisite but we can be flexible. Unfortunately, right now it looks like my roster is filled.
Special Projects in Physics
My research focuses on low temperature plasmas for use in space propulsion. You interact with plasmas more often than you might think – fluorescent lighting, applying coatings/treatments to surfaces (why doesn’t the ink rub off of potato chip bags?), lightning and neon signs are a few everyday examples.
Plasma thrusters (also called ion engines) accelerate plasma ions to very high speeds, often exceeding 30,000 miles per hour. They typically have very low thrust (force) but are very efficient with their fuel. Some thruster designs could run for more than a year continuously on a single kilogram of propellant!
I have a few computational projects that are all concerned with modeling a special phenomenon that could be used to drastically increase the efficiency and lifetime of plasma-based thrusters. Background information can be found on my research page. Most of these projects involve analysis of data from established codes, using MATLAB or your favorite tool. These projects can be adapted for any experience level – if you’re interested in doing any computational modeling or data analysis, please come talk to me!
Particle-in-cell (PIC) modeling of RF self-bias effect
- This would involve running and analyzing data from a PIC code called XOOPIC.
- Command line familiarity (ssh / bash scripting / file transfer) would be helpful but is not required.
- Familiarity with a data analysis tool (I use MATLAB) would also be useful but again is not required.
Finite-difference wave codes
- This project involves a bit more data analysis using MATLAB, and some FORTRAN / shell / compiling knowledge would be helpful.
- Two existing FORTRAN codes first need to be ported from SPARC to x86 and validated.
- Runs of these codes and analysis of their data will be used in studies of new antenna geometries and as inputs for the above project.