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.

Andres Aragoneses

My research interests are in complex systems and complex dynamics, focused in nonlinear laser dynamics. Examples of complex systems include the human brain, cellular networks, the climate, social networks, laser dynamics, among many others. I am particularly interested in the dynamics of semiconductor lasers, as they are simple devices with which we can obtain a broad range of dynamics, from chaos to regular patterns. Also, these devices can help us design optical neurons, i. e., photonic systems that mimic biological neurons’ behavior. This last would help us understand how neurons compute information, and would path the way for a neuro-inspired optical computational system.

There are different possibilities of research, some of them imply simulating models, others aim to apply novel and powerful statistical analysis tools to experimental and numerical data previously studied. In your research you will begin deepening your knowledge on lasers and complex systems. Then you will focus, either on a more numerical simulations path, or on statistical data analysis from different complex systems.

Requirements: eager to learn and discover. Previous software programming knowledge is welcome but not required.

Marty Baylor

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. I am currently looking for students to start in fall or winter 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. Actively looking for at least one student.

NMR and Photopolymers: For this project, we are trying to develop an NMR technique for measuring the gel point of a photopolymer – the amount of optical exposure necessary for the material to transition from ‘liquid’ to ‘solid’. This is a joint project with Gretchen Hoffmeister and typically includes students that have a strong interest in chemistry. Students don’t necessarily need to be a chemistry major, but they need to have taken a chemistry course that uses Carleton’s NMR instrument. This is for students in ready to commit to a long-term project. Actively looking for at least one student.

Photopolymer Lenses: This project focuses on using interfacial surface tension to fabricate photopolymer lenses. This is for students in ready to commit to a long-term project.

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.

Cindy Blaha

Cindy is on sabbatical for the academic year 2017-2018.

Barry Costanzi

My research focuses on understanding the magnetic characteristics of mesoscale (~100s of nm) magnetic structures, with an eye toward both the fundamental physics of the systems, and toward possible applications. Currently my work is focused on looking at phase transitions between the magnetic ground state of mesoscale square magnetic dots as a function of size, and also on activated random switching of the magnetization when the pinning energies become close to room temperature.

Straightforward electrical transport measurements are used to probe magnetic properties, but I’ve not yet constructed a measurement setup at Carleton yet. Students who work with me would be tasked with helping build the experimental setup from the ground up, and then would be able to take measurements on the completed setup with samples fabricated at the Minnesota Nanocenter. Initial results would likely lead to further iterations of sample fabrication, with opportunities for student design of new sample geometries based on previous experimental results.

Only a general familiarity with E&M is required. Some LabView experience preferred, but not necessary. Please with email me at bcostanzi@carleton.edu or swing by my office to chat if you’re interested!


Melissa Eblen-Zayas

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.

Energy efficient communities: From time to time, I work with students on projects exploring systems approaches to planning energy efficient buildings, renewable energy projects, and materials life cycle handling.  The exact nature of these projects depends on the needs of community partners, and are appropriate for students with interests in engineering, environmental studies, and sustainable design. 

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.  I am also looking for someone that could be a dedicated electronics person.  I have several electronic projects that are near completion.  These projects will be critical for the lab in the future.  If you ever wanted to learn how to solder, implement, and troubleshoot electronics let me know.   There are also a few new project that need to be started as well.  Projects include assembly of power supplies, locking electronics, digital synthesizers, and amplifiers. Computer aided design of circuits will also be investigated. No experience necessary just a will to learn.  Please email me (ehazlett@carleton.edu) if you are interested. 

Frank McNally

My research topics currently follow two avenues: 1) using cosmic-ray data from IceCube (https://icecube.wisc.edu/) to look for nearby sources and/or the structure of the local galactic magnetic field, and 2) improving air-shower reconstruction using likelihood-based methods. In the past, I have also worked with the Carleton Summer Science Institute, where I taught a class on particle astrophysics and worked with students on a cell-phone-as-cosmic-ray-detector project (http://wipac.wisc.edu/deco).

Plans for the upcoming summer are uncertain, but it's possible I'll be looking for 1-2 students interested in astrophysics and science education. Programming experience is preferred as there will be a lot of it, but not a must for students willing to learn. Interested students could start as soon as spring term, and should email me at fmcnally@carleton.edu.

Arjendu Pattanayak

I have several projects on trying to understand the behavior of quantum nonlinear systems, focusing on the role of decoherence and how at certain system sizes we can see the transition between quantum and classical behavior, including things like how quantum entanglement depends on dynamics, and how you might be able to control all this. Recently these projects have expanded to include systems that enable us to 'harvest' energy from ambient vibrations (aka 'micro-energy harvesting'), etc. 

The work is both analytical and computational, and I can get students going with few assumptions about their background. I do like a long-term commitment — at least two terms. Travel to conferences to report on results is very likely, and I have recently started a collaboration with a group in Australia who hosted one of my students last summer. More (somewhat outdated) information is on my research web page, but I am happy to talk to you about this anytime.

Jay Tasson

A diverse set of opportunities exist for students to work with me on projects related to relativity testing (testing Lorentz symmetry). The big-picture goal of this line of research is to try to gain some information that would guide the merge of General Relativity and quantum mechanics into a single consistent theory, but most of the work involved is much more down-to-Earth.  The opportunities could involve a variety of activities ranging from data analysis to paper and pencil theory and span a variety of areas of physics (gravitational waves, relativistic quantum mechanics, laboratory gravity tests, ...).  There are also projects suited to a variety of backgrounds and skill levels. Even if you've just taken introductory physics, you may be qualified. For more information, see my web page and links there in, or talk to me!

Joel Weisberg

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 radiotelescopes 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.  Unfortunately my research positions are currently filled by returning students.