Research Opportunities

On campus research opportunities are available both during the academic year and during the summer. Students may join a faculty mentor on an established project (examples below), but all physics faculty are open to new research ideas proposed by students. During the academic year, research can optionally be done for course credit. Funding for summer research is available from several sources.

Faculty Research Interests and Areas:

Project Descriptions:

Research projects
Mechanisms of Fossilization: Liz Boatman

Fossil Shark Teeth

The goal of Liz's work in this area of study is to further elucidate mechanisms of fossilization in both hard (mineralized) and soft tissues. Fossilization has long been regarded as a destructive (diagenetic) process that alters original biological tissue material properties and obscures key signals that could otherwise be used to indirectly infer those properties. Building on her prior work on the study of fossil bone and blood vessel tissues, Liz's current focus is on the application of materials characterization techniques to fossil shark teeth to use key structural features to interrogate phylogenetic models of prehistoric and modern species relationships, and to bone to probe the possible protective effect of fluoride uptake from groundwater in fossil mineralized tissues. 

Musical Acoustics: Thomas Huber

Musical acoustics

The goal of this faculty-student research project is a more fundamental understanding of tone production in organ pipes. One instrument that we study is the reed pipe used in pipe organs. Using a recently purchased laser vibrometer, we can measure the velocity at different points on the reed. This is the first experiment that has measured the actual shape of the vibrating reed. The observation of complex vibrational modes, including include torsional and 2nd and 3rd order modes as shown, was completely unexpected.

Zinc Bromine Flow Battery: Chuck Niederriter

Zinc Bromine Flow Battery

The goal of this project is the development of a demonstration scale zinc bromine flow battery. A flow battery is a rechargeable fuel cell in which electrolyte containing one or more dissolved electroactive species flows through an electrochemical cell that reversibly converts chemical energy directly to electricity. Additional electrolyte is stored externally, generally in tanks, and is usually pumped through the cell (or cells) of the reactor. Flow batteries can be rapidly "recharged" by replacing the electrolyte liquid (in a similar way to refilling fuel tanks for internal combustion engines) while simultaneously recovering the spent material for re-energization.

Desiccant Dehumidifier: Chuck Niederriter

Desiccant Dehumidifier

The development of a demonstration desiccant dehumidifier is the goal of this project. The dehumidifier under construction is of the desiccant wheel type designed to dry air by passing a large volume of air (process air) through a slowly rotating Silica gel rotor. Silica gel is a hygroscopic material that absorbs moisture direct from the air. As the air passes through the rotor, the humidity of the air is reduced, while the moisture content of the rotor is increased. A smaller volume of air (reactivation air) is heated ideally by a solar panel or other renewable source of energy passes through a portion of the rotor in the opposite direction. As this heated air passes through the rotor it will “reactivate” it by removing the moisture content from the silica gel material. The reactivation air will leave the humidifier as warm, moist air and must be vented to outside of the building. Continuous circulation of the room air through the dehumidifier unit gradually reduces the relative humidity in the room.

PV Panel Tracking System: Chuck Niederriter

PV Panel Tracking System

The goal of this student-led project is to determine the costs and benefits of tracking on commercial size photovoltaic installations. Theoretical calculations will be compared to experimental data collected from a custom made system.

Ground Source Geothermal: Chuck Niederriter

Ground Source Geothermal

A home scale geothermal loop (800 foot) was installed under the new mall area between Olin and Beck Halls when it was recently renovated. Thermistor arrays and moisture sensors were also installed to study the flow of heat toward and way from the loop under various conditions. A sprinkler system allows the water content of the soil to be varied, providing a means to study the effect on the efficiency of the system. The goal is to develop a fully instrumented system for use in geology, physics, and environmental studies labs.

Photon Correlation Spectroscopy: Paul Saulnier

Photon Correlation Spectroscopy

Photon Correlation Spectroscopy (PCS) is a technique in which the motion of particles suspended in a fluid causes the light scattered by these particles to fluctuate in time. By analyzing these intensity fluctuations the particle size may be determined. Adding time-resolved detection enables denser samples to be probed.

Speckle Statistics: Paul Saulnier

Speckle Statistics

A speckle statistics study consists of determining the intensity distribution of light across a speckle pattern as one probes a large number speckle coherence areas. The resulting intensity distributions for various incident polarizations may be compared to help infer the photon behavior inside the highly scattering media.

Studying Swarms in Nature: Paul Saulnier

Swarms in Nature

Our biophysics research program centers on the study of the structural characteristics of swarms in nature. The characteristics of such aggregations, as a whole, may be used to infer the behavioral attributes of the individuals comprising the swarms by using radial distribution and pair-correlation functions.

Sonoluminescence: Paul Saulnier


Sonoluminescence is the emission of ultra-short bursts of light from imploding bubbles trapped in a liquid when driven at resonance by a sound field of sufficient intensity. We have used a single acoustical horn driving a rectangular chamber at resonance to produce single bubble sonoluminescence.

Diatomic Molecular Ion Trapping: Jessie Petricka

Molecular Ion Trapping

Dr. Petricka's research on ion trapping investigates the production, and chemical and electrical stability of dipolar species. This research is important for the atomic physics community which is searching for methods to produce cold polar molecules.

Wireless Power Transfer: Jessie Petricka

Wireless Power Transfer

The goal of this project is to efficiently power a device without need for a physical connection (plug-in wire). The transfer of power relies on strong coupling through AC magnetic fields and matching resonances in the source and device. Theoretical models and new designs are tested both numerically and experimentally.