Skip to main content
Indiana University Bloomington

IU Summer REU Research Projects in the Department of Physics

Here are a few examples of potential REU research projects based in the Department of Physics at Swain Hall West.


Kinematics of Nearby Galaxies

Prof. Liese vanZee, Astronomy

Measurement of the gas phase kinematic properties of nearby galaxies enables studies of both their gravitational potential and the connection between baryonic components (gas, stars, and dust) and dark matter halos. Students use the combination of observations of the neutral gas (from the 21cm spin-flip of neutral hydrogen) and observations of the ionized gas (from the Hydrogen Balmer-alpha line and the forbidden lines of [NII] and [SII]) to measure rotational velocities and local velocity dispersions. To measure the dark matter potential, students correct the observed rotation curve for inclination effects and decompose the rotation curve into baryonic and non-baryonic components. Students also analyze the velocity dispersion measurements to investigate whether the ionized gas is gravitationally bound to the system. These measurements provide insight into the physical conditions and evolutions of the interstellar medium in galaxies.

See Molecular dynamics simulations of neutron star crust

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics

Experimental Quantum Information Processing

Prof. Phil Richerme, Physics

Individual atoms can be trapped, collected into arrays, and cooled to their quantum ground states to form a synthetic quantum material. These engineered quantum systems can be studied and reprogrammed in a well-controlled laboratory environment, allowing for investigations of quantum many-body systems that are inaccessible in real materials or through numeric simulations. Undergraduate students assist in the development of laser, optical, electronic, and vacuum systems needed to run the apparatus.

Engineering Long-Range Interactions Between Ultracold Atoms

Prof. Brian Desalvo, Physics

Using laser cooling and evaporative cooling, dilute gases of neutral atoms can reach extraordinarily low temperatures where quantum mechanics dominates their behavior. Although the conditions are extreme, these gases offer a simple and flexible system for quantum simulation as well as novel ways to store and manipulate quantum information. Different isotopes of the same atomic species offer the ability to create quantum degenerate gases with either bosonic or fermionic statistics, and by using laser light and magnetic fields one can tune the geometry, dimensionality, and even interparticle interactions of these gases at will. In the DeSalvo Lab, we explore these gases both in and out of equilibrium and seek to develop new methods to control long-ranged interactions between the atoms, ultimately allowing access to a rich variety of novel quantum phases.


The Statistical Physics of Living Neural Networks

Prof. John Beggs, Physics

Cortical slices and cultures are prepared from rat and mouse brains. These simplified slice networks are placed on advanced microelectrode arrays, allowing up to hundreds of individual spiking neurons to be sampled at high temporal resolution. We borrow concepts from statistical physics (models of frustrated magnetic materials, models of avalanching systems, models of complex networks) to describe the activity we see in data sets recorded with the microelectrode arrays. Recent projects on which undergraduates have worked include measuring information flow between neurons, modeling trajectories of network activity through a simplified state space, developing maximum entropy models to describe the probability distribution of network states, applying new measures of synergy between information flows to cellular automata models and to neurophysiological data.

Visual Information Processing

Prof. Rob de Ruyter, Physics

Vision in animals, including humans, is based on an ongoing interpretation of optical signals gathered by the eye, and the physical properties of these highly complex signals put fundamental limits on visual information processing. We study visually guided behavior in a specially developed flight tracker system. The fly uses adaptive computational strategies to cope with the complexity of the visual input data stream, and we try to understand these strategies on a quantitative basis, hoping to uncover fundamental principles of biological computation.

Condensed Matter

Top-Down Fabrication of Nanostructured Materials

Prof. Shixiong Zhang

Owing to their confined dimensionality and large surface-area-to-volume ratio, nanostructured materials often possess novel physical properties that are beyond what one can achieve in their bulk counterparts. The study of intrinsic properties of these nanomaterials will depend crucially on their crystalline quality. This project will focus on the fabrication of new high-quality, single-crystalline nanostructured materials through top-down approaches where bulk single-crystals are thinned down to the nanometer scales. Through this project, REU students will develop important experimental skills in the areas of materials physics, sample growth, characterization, and nanotechnology. Since joining the Department in 2012, Prof. Zhang has mentored more than ten undergraduate students including five summer REU students.

Topological States of Matter

Prof. Babak Seradjeh

In the past decade, the theory and experimental promise of topologically ordered states has led to the discovery of several families of two- and three-dimensional topological insulators and candidate topological superconductors. The electrons in these systems are inert in the bulk yet cost vanishingly little energy to excite at the system boundaries or inside bulk defects. The student in this project will investigate aspects of model topological insulators and superconductors by employing analytical and simple numerical methods using Mathematica or Matlab, or coding in C/C++/Fortran. The problems are designed to understand the fundamental principles governing the system, their connection to experiments, theoretical techniques, and potential applications and architectures for novel devices.

Elementary Particle Experiment

The NOvA Neutrino Oscillation Experiment

Prof. Mark Messier, Physics

NOvA studies the muon-to-electron neutrino oscillation using both neutrinos and anti-neutrinos. Students will help to develop and test event reconstruction software and use the standard tools of high energy physics to simulate detector performance, analyze events from the detector, and test ideas for improvements or enhancements to the existing detectors.

Triggering proton collisions with ATLAS

Prof. Sabine Lammers, Physics

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is gearing up to deliver proton collisions at center-of-mass energy of 14 TeV, the highest energy of any accelerator in history. The ATLAS detector will record interesting LHC collisions in order to study a wide scope of phenomena, including weak and strong nuclear interactions, and possibly produce particles that have never been observed before. Students will design and test algorithms that are used to decide which collision events to record based on the topology of the particles exiting the collision and entering the ATLAS detector. Students can expect to learn how to use Monte Carlo simulation tools to make predictions for the performance of their algorithms and will have the possibility to analyze real data from the LHC.

Elementary Particle Theory

Dark Energy

Prof. Mike Berger, Physics

The introduction of an interaction for dark energy to the standard cosmology offers a potential solution to the cosmic coincidence problem, a scheme for introducing a holographic foundation for dark energy, as well as the possibility of giving a unified description of early inflation and present accelerated expansion of the Universe. Students perform analytical work as well as numerical simulations to investigate possible physical choices for the behavior of dark matter in the Friedmann-Robertson-Walker framework. The goal is to obtain a good fit to the observational data supporting an accelerating Universe, and a successful model would represent a possible alternative interpretation of the expansion history of the Universe.
Theoretical Studies of Relativity Tests

Dr. Ralf Lehnert, Physics

Special relativity (SR) is one of the most basic and best confirmed theories physics. However, recent theoretical ideas in the context of new models beyond established physics suggest that there may, in fact, be the possibility of small departures from SR. Such hypothetical deviations from SR would affect many physical systems, such as the relation between energy and momentum for free particles. Predictions of this type can be employed for ultra-sensitive experimental tests of SR. This project involves modeling such deviations from SR with the goal to identify possible high-precision relativity tests. The prerequisites for research along these lines include an elementary knowledge of SR and basic undergraduate electrodynamics and quantum mechanics.

IU Summer REU Research Projects at the Center for Exploration of Energy and Matter/Nuclear Theory Center

Here are a few examples of potential REU research projects based at the Indiana University Center for Exploration of Energy and Matter.

Low Energy Neutron Source (LENS)

Small Angle Neutron Scattering (SANS) Studies of Nanostructured Materials

Prof. David Baxter, Physics and CEEM

The presence of the LENS facility within the department offers a number of unique opportunities for undergraduate research on materials. Prof. Baxter has particular interest in the SANS technique which probes the mesoscopic structure of materials (length scales from 1 to 100 nm), and in studying hydrogenous materials that may be suitable for improved neutron moderators through neutron transmission experiments. With both techniques it is possible to introduce students to the fundamentals, collect data on several samples, and complete the analysis of suitable samples within a period of 5 to 8 weeks. Specific projects we envision pursuing with students supported by this grant include neutron transmission of materials that may be used in future very cold neutron (VCN). Publication of these data is eagerly anticipated by the VCN community as these data are needed for testing new simulation codes for future source design. SANS projects of interest include geological samples (clays and coals), bone, and nanoparticles ranging from virus capside surrounding magnetic nanoparticles to molecular-sized graphene sheets (produced by colleagues in Chemistry).

Quantum Entanglement with Neutrons

Profs. David Baxter and Prof. Mike Snow, Physics, CEEM, and QSEc

We investigate new modes of quantum entanglement involving different degrees of freedom of neutrons (e.g their spin, momentum, energy, and orbital angular momentum). Projects will include design and testing of hardware for manipulation of neutron quantum states, simulation of new neutron optical components for quantum sensing with neutrons, applications of entangled neutron states to neutron scattering from entangled-electron systems, searches for time reversal violation with neutrons, and new methods to generate and measure orbital angular momentum states of neutrons.

Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Chemistry Experiment

Many Body Nuclear Dynamics

Dr. Sylvie Hudan and Prof. Romualdo DeSouza, CEEM and Nuclear Chemistry

Many body nuclear dynamics examines the nuclear equation of state and the interplay between the statistical and dynamical break-up of nuclei under extreme conditions of density, temperature, shape, and isospin. Recent projects include Studying Nucleon Transport in Hot Nuclear Matter and Studying Mid-Peripheral Heavy-Ion Collisions. Dr. Hudan has supervised three REU students in the past five years.

Exotic spin-dependent interactions

Prof. Mike Snow, Physics and CEEM

Prof. Snow has conducted a number of tabletop experiments to search for possible exotic spin-dependent interactions of nature that are predicted in certain string theories. This work concentrates on interactions with ranges between millimeters and microns. The small scale of these experiments makes it possible to involve students in the experiments at the hardware level, and students are able to complete a coherent project during the summer. Students design key instrument components using Inventor and test them in the labs at CEEM before they are deployed at national laboratories such as LANSCE, SNS, and the NIST reactor.

Nuclear Physics Theory

Molecular dynamics simulations of neutron star crust

Prof. Adam Szczepaniak, Physics and Nuclear Theory Center

The student will study properties of quark-gluon interactions in Quantum Chromodynamics formulated as a many-body, Hamiltonian system with physical degrees of freedom. The student will investigate the distribution of energy density in presence of quark and antiquark sources and its connection with phenomenological models of hadrons. Professor Szczepaniak has supervised five REU students working on theoretical projects in the past six years.

Molecular dynamics simulations of neutron star crust

Prof. Chuck Horowitz, Physics and Nuclear Theory Center

Neutron stars are extraordinarily dense objects more massive than the sun but only about 20 km across. They offer a unique laboratory for study of nuclear matter at varying densities. The student will perform and analyze the results of molecular dynamics simulations to determine properties of the star's solid outer layers. Star crust 10 billion times stronger than steel.