Department Contact Information

Physics Department

Location: 180-204
Phone: (805) 756-2448
Fax: (805) 756-2435
Email: physics@calpoly.edu
Chair: Karl Saunders

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Summer Research

Kat Gillen's cold atom trapping labThe College of Science and Mathematics highly encourages students to participate in undergraduate research during their time here at Cal Poly. These opportunities happen because of external and internal grants, the Frost Fund, and other sources. Each faculty has a unique opportunity, which you can explore below.

Come check out photos of our students at work during the 2019 Frost Summer Research Program.

Research Opportunities

Jump To:      
Dr. Matthew Beekman Dr. Jodi Christiansen Dr. Sean Echols Dr. Jon Fernsler
Dr. Scott Fraser Dr. Hilary Jacks Dr. John Jasbinsek Dr. Elizabeth Jeffery
Dr. Scott Johnston Dr. Nathan Keim Dr. Oleg Kogan Dr. Tatiana Kuriabova
Dr. Colleen Marlow Dr. Themis Mastoridis Dr. Matt Mewes Dr. Karl Saunders
Dr. Pete Schwartz Dr. Stephanie Wissel

Faculty Member: Dr. Matthew Beekman

Overview

Materials Physics, Experiment and Modeling

Possible Projects

1) Construction of electrical properties measurement system for 10 K to 300 K temperature range;

2) Experimental studies of electrical properties of nanomaterials;

3) Modeling of electrical properties of nanoscale layered composites; 4) Analysis of structural and thermal expansion data (from X-ray diffraction) for NaxSi136 clathrate materials

Minimum Requirements

For the projects as numbered above:

1) Some familiarity with LabVIEW a plus;
2) None;
3) Programming experience, e.g. PHYS 202;
4) None
 

Dates to work in Summer 2019

8 weeks beginning June 17

Faculty Member: Dr. Jodi Christiansen

Overview

Observational Astroparticle Physics: Searching for Very-High Energy (VHE) Gamma-rays from Blazars with the VERITAS Array of Telescopes”

Possible Projects

Blazar Discovery Program:

Two years ago I finished developing a computer algorithm for finding Gamma-rays that is 30% more sensitive than previous algorithms. With this algorithm, we now, for the first time, have the possibility of observing new sources of VHE gamma-rays. Although many blazars are known, only a few produce VHE gamma-rays. These gamma-rays teach us about particle acceleration in the most extreme environments found in our present-day universe, those surrounding supermassive black holes.

The VERITAS discovery program began in 2007 when the telescope array was first completed. At that time 2 VHE blazars were known. In the past 10 years we have discovered 19 more VHE blazars. Our competitor experiments, Magic and H.E.S.S. have discovered a similar number taking the total to more than 38. Last year Cal Poly students helped discover one blazar, 3C 264. You can read the Astronomer’s Telegram that announced the discovery here: http://www.astronomerstelegram.org/?read=11436

We have a team of Cal Poly students who are using the new algorithm on data taken this year (Sept. through June). There are six blazars that we are following as well as multi-messenger alerts from neutrinos discovered by IceCube which is a neutrino telescope located at the South Pole. If you enjoy the hunt for discovery and want to be participate in this time-sensitive work, please consider applying. 

Minimum Requirements

There are no prerequisites for this project. Students with more advanced computing skills can develop new software algorithms.

Dates to work in Summer 2019

June 24 to July 24 or August 1 to August 30. I will be at a conference from July 24 to August 1.

Faculty Member: Dr. Sean Echols

Overview

Theoretical/computational gravitational physics

Possible Projects

Creating computational models of 3-body gravitational systems and finding theoretical/mathematical connections to the associated shape space as well as understanding/describing the associated symmetry groups.

Minimum Requirements

Programming: PHYS 202, CPE 101, or equivalent experience; Classical Physics: Phys 302, or equivalent

Dates to Work in Summer 2019

June 24 - August 16

Faculty Member: Dr. Jon Fernsler

Overview

I study 2-dimensional fluid films with thicknesses on the scale of one to a few molecules. My projects focus on using microscopy to study these films that may have exciting implications on biophysics.

Possible Projects

I have two projects I'll be exploring this summer. 1) My group has designed and built a Brewster Angle Microscope out of LEGO (recently published) that is being used to study the structure of lung surfactant, a coating on the surface of the lungs. Our new image analyses have opened up a host of properties that could not previously be measured and could lead to implications in treating lung disease. 2) 2D fluids behave in unusual ways not seen in 3D. At molecular scales, the main way that fluids are transported is through diffusion. But in 2D, this diffusion may occur in a radically new way according to current theories, where diffusion is no longer deterministic, but instead produces huge random fluctuations. We are using a fluorescence microscope to study the diffusion of dye, where a laser bleaches dye in a 2D fluid liquid crystal to produce a change in concentration, which drives diffusion.

Minimum Requirements

It is helpful to have some experience programming in Matlab and/or LabVIEW, but not necessary. Also, completion of the intro series of physics is necessary to understand our microscopy techniques.

Dates to Work in Summer 2019

June 17-Aug 16

Faculty Member: Dr. Scott Fraser

Overview

Black holes and other topics in general relativity (Einstein's theory of gravity and curved spacetime).

Possible Projects

Many potential projects are available, most of which explore fundamental properties of black holes and how black holes interact with each other. Potential projects include (but are not limited to) investigating how black holes remarkably act like fluid droplets; how cylindrical black strings act like fluid tubes; how these behaviors might support an important fifty-year-old conjecture known as Cosmic Censorship of spacetime singularities. Many of my past students who pursued this research won awards at the annual statewide CSU student research competition.  In addition to the example projects above, I also welcome students' own interests and/or ideas. 

Minimum Requirements

PHYS 211 (Modern Physics I, or equivalent experience); some upper division physics experience (such as PHYS 302), or an equivalent motivation to work at the upper division level. Prior knowledge of general relativity or black holes is NOT required.

Dates to Work in Summer 2019

I can often work with students in any quarter: fall, winter, spring, summer. For summer: typical work dates in the Frost program are approximately mid June through mid September, but modifications to these dates are possible.

You are welcome to either contact me by email (scfraser@calpoly.edu) and/or visit my office (Faculty Offices East, 25-206).

Faculty Member: Dr. Hilary Jacks

Overview

Experimental modeling of memory in disordered networks

Possible Projects

Recent simulations of disordered elastic networks have displayed a capacity for memory in their isostatic regions. In particular, the simulated network retains information about previously applied shear stress which can later be read. We propose to design and construct physical models of these systems in order to explore the requisite physical characteristics for a system to display the same or similar memory traits. We will measure how the mechanical properties of these physical networks can be changed by their memory states. Additionally, we will analyze correlations between memory states of networks with more than one isostatic region to better understand how multiple memory states may be coupled. Beyond learning about the principles which drive this research, students will gain experience in rapid prototyping.

Minimum Requirements

Basic statistics and data analysis skills

Dates to work in Summer 2019

Students are expected to work full time for 8 weeks, starting roughly on June 17th. It is a plus if students are available for minimal preliminary work during the Spring Quarter.

Please feel free to contact me with more questions at hjacks@calpoly.edu

Faculty Member: Dr. John Jasbinsek

Overview

(1) Seismic Imaging of Earth's Core-mantle boundary

(2) Field geophysical imaging of groundwater systems

Possible Projects

(1) Modeling of seismic waveforms that interact with the core-mantle boundary system (depth 2,900 km). Results will be used to infer existence of compositional and/or thermal anomalies related to variations in mantle geochemistry.

(2) Perform geophysical field work (collecting electrical resistivity tomography data) to image groundwater aquifer systems. Field sites may include: Los Osos, Edna Valley, Los Alamos (CA), Yucca Valley (S. Calif.), and Chester, CA (Mt. Lassen area).

Minimum Requirements

(1) Some background in using computational tools (e.g. Matlab, Python - e.g. PHYS 202). Will need to spend time doing literature review of seismology and geophysics to interpret results

(2) Field work is physically demanding when performed, and can include multiple days in a row. Willingness to learn about hydrogeology and hydrogeophysics for data interpretation. Student would learn how to use EarthImager software to process data.

Dates to work in Summer 2019

Approximately June 24th through August 17th (8 weeks)

Faculty Member: Dr. Elizabeth Jeffery

Overview

Observational astronomy: measuring ages of stars and testing stellar evolution models with high precision data.

Possible Projects

Testing stellar evolution models and measuring star ages using a Bayesian algorithm.

Minimum Requirements

Preferably (but not required) ASTR 302

Dates to work in Summer 2019

July 1 - September 6

Faculty Member: Dr. Scott Johnston

Overview

My students and I study geologic problems associated with the construction of the North American cordillera. We use a variety of techniques including field work and mapping, geochronology and geochemistry.

Possible Projects

I have several different projects including 1) geochronology and geochemistry of Salinian block metamorphic framework, 2) detrital zircon geochronology and geochemistry of Santa Ynez mountains Cretaceous sandstone, and 3) Early Cretaceous structural evolution of the Sierra Nevada.

Minimum Requirements

GEOL 310 or GEOL 415.

Dates to work in Summer 2019

Late June to mid August.

Faculty Member: Dr. Nathan Keim

Overview

Experiments with soft matter and disordered systems

Possible Projects

4 projects that involve combinations of: building/improving apparatus, performing experiments, and analyzing photographs, movies, and other data sets. For a complete listing see here.

Minimum Requirements

Mostly persistence, and a willingness to learn and improve. Programming experience of any kind is welcome but not required. For the demo-building project, Yellow Tag status is welcome but not required.

Dates to work in Summer 2019

June 24 to August 16

Faculty Member: Dr. Oleg Kogan

Overview

My research concerns biological transport - both on the cellular and macroscopic level.

Possible Projects

There are two main sets of projects.  One set involves modeling of fungal pathogen transport by wind on the scale of continents.  The other concerns microscopic scale: it involves modeling of the transport of cargo - such as insulin, and other large molecules - within cells.  The second project is a part of a collaboration with colleagues at UC Merced.  The systems I study involve a combination of deterministic and random motion of propagules (spores, pollen, cargo, etc.), giving rise to collective effects.  Spatial disorder also plays a very interesting role in these systems.

There is also a potential to study another type of system - the collective behavior of particles that swarm and also exhibit synchronization behavior (like synchronization of firefly flashing).  This would be done in collaboration with a postdoc from MIT.

Minimum Requirements

A student needs to be comfortable with and enjoy doing math and solving quantitative problems.  Mathematical proficiency up through Calc IV and Linear analysis is really preferred.  Programming experience with C++ is also highly useful.

Dates to work in Summer 2019

Summer and possibly beyond.  Can lead to a senior project after the summer.

Last summer, one student went to present his and another student's results at a conference after only two months of summer work.  This work - and potentially your work -  will also likely lead to a publication.

Finally,  I am also open to accommodate other students' interests and come up with an appropriate project if you are interested in biophysics, broadly-defined.

Please don't hesitate to contact me (okogan@calpoly.edu).  

Faculty Member: Dr. Tatiana Kuriabova

Overview

Theoretical and computational soft condensed matter physics with emphasis on motility of biological microorganisms in 2D membranes and non-equilibrium fluctuations and diffusion in 2D fluids.

Possible Projects

(a) Microscopic swimmers: fluid – structure interactions (in collaboration with Brown University). Develop a theoretical model and computational approach for the coupling of long-range hydrodynamic interactions and elastic deformations of a filament, study the effect of the coupling on the swimming of filamentous microorganisms.

(b) Hydrodynamic interactions of smectic A inclusions with each other and geometric boundaries (in collaboration in CU Boulder). Apply the boundary element approach to model the flows due to smectic A `islands’.

(c) Non-equilibrium fluctuations and diffusion in 2D fluids (in collaboration with Dr. Fernsler’s experimental group, Cal Poly). Study the role of giant concentration fluctuations in the diffusive mixing in the presence of a concentration gradient in quasi-2D membranes. Multiple computational and theoretical projects.

Minimum Requirements

No minimum requirements, Matlab coding skills at the level of Physics 220 are preferred (but not required).

Dates to Work in Summer 2019

Summer 2019: late June to mid August. A student can start working with me in any quarter.

Faculty Member: Dr. Colleen Marlow

Overview

In my lab we study the electronic properties of microscopic networks of randomly arranged carbon nanotubes (CNTs). We measure CNT network field effect transistor devices, image the CNT networks using AFM and simulate their electrical properties computationally. Ultimately we would like to understand what makes these networks effective as an electrical platform for biosensing.

Possible Projects

Project 1: Electrical characterization of devices while gating network devices using an atomic force microscope. This project is highly technical. This project requires students to build on their electronic circuit, LabView and experimental physics skills while also learning atomic force microscopy, device and transport physics.

Project 2: Impact of temperature on the nonlinearity of sparse CNT network devices. This project is good for a student who would like to build on their electronic circuit, LabView and experimental physics skills while also learning device and transport physics and how to run a cryostat.

Project 3: Simulating CNT network electrical properties. This project is computational and is good for a student who would like to build their programming and modeling skills while also learning some percolation theory and electron transport physics.

Minimum Requirements

Project 1 and 2: Phys 206/256 or the equivalent with experience in LabView is required to begin.

Project 3: Phys 202 or the equivalent is required.

All projects require that you can do 2 units of independent research and will shadow a current student (usually in the spring quarter).

Dates to Work in Summer 2019

I will be interviewing students interested in working on the projects listed above in the 10th week of the Winter quarter. Selected students will begin with 2 units of independent research in in the spring quarter. Summer positions will be decided in the middle of the spring quarter and will run 8 weeks at 40 hrs/wk from late June (6/24) to mid August (8/16).

Faculty Member: Dr. Themis Mastoridis

Overview

Accelerator physics: optimization of the accelerating system

Possible Projects

Work on the Electron-Ion Collider, a new accelerator in the US.

Minimum Requirements

No prerequisites. Matlab and/or Python experience will be preferred.

Dates to work in Summer 2019

June 24th - August 16th

Faculty Member: Dr. Matt Mewes

Overview

Theoretical particle physics and general relativity with a focus on violations of Lorentz invariance, the symmetry behind special relativity.

Possible Projects

Students can explore the effects of symmetry violations in wide range of systems. Examples include neutrino oscillations, electromagnetic resonant cavities, Newtonian gravity and gravitational waves.

Minimum Requirements

Projects exist that are appropriate for students at almost any level.

Dates to work in Summer 2019

Dates are flexible.

Students interested in theoretical research can email me or stop by my office.

Faculty Member: Dr. Karl Saunders

Overview

Theoretical studies of liquid crystal phases and phase transitions

Possible Projects

Theoretical investigation of novel twist-bend liquid crystal phases. 

Minimum Requirements

MATH 304

Dates to work in Summer 2019

June 24-August 16

Faculty Member: Dr. Pete Schwartz

Overview

Collaboratively with communities and organizations in Africa, we (with Nate Heston, Physics) design and disseminate dirt cheap solar technologies for cooking, ice making, and domestic uses.

Possible Projects

We are building solar electric cooking and ice making. The research is more thoroughly described at our website, here. We will likely travel to Ghana in August for two weeks to work on these projects with local communities.

Minimum Requirements

None.

Dates to work in Summer 2019

I require only 8 weeks as the student is able.

Faculty Member: Dr. Stephanie Wissel

Overview

Experimental astrophysics and particle physics

Possible Projects

Astrophysics and Particle Physics with the Highest Energy Neutrinos

The highest energy neutrinos carry with them information about fundamental particle physics interactions and the dynamics of explosive astrophysical objects over the history of the universe. Neutrinos are subatomic particles that regularly surprise physicists with their properties and can escape the hot dense plasmas formed in the most violent explosions in the universe. Members of the Wissel Lab work on the radio detection of these rare particles using analog and digital electronics optimized for 10-1000 MHz radio signals, computational data analysis, and detector modeling. Current experiments are located in Antarctica (ANITA/PUEO and ARA/RNO) and high-elevation mountains in the Sierra Nevadas (BEACON, White Mountain Research Station), and previous experiments have been located in Greenland, the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine Tx, and the SLAC accelerator facility. 

Depending on student interest and project schedules, this summer students in the Wissel Lab may work on:
1. Computational modeling of PUEO and/or BEACON sensitivity to tau neutrinos and/or cosmic ray backgrounds
2. Design, construction, and testing of improved antennas embedded in the ice in Antarctica for RNO/ARA
3. Field work at the BEACON site, on top of a high-altitude mountain at the White Mountain Research Station. Can include antenna construction and testing, calibration systems construction
4. Surveying field sites in California and Nevada for future BEACON stations
5. Models of neutrino calibration signals using programmable circuits (FPGA) and a digital-to-analog converter (DAC).
6. Computational modeling of cosmic ray air showers impacting the ice near RNO/ARA.

More information may be found about the our work:
https://swissel.github.io

General descriptions of the physics and astrophysics are at:
+ Fundamental Physics with High-Energy Cosmic Neutrinos

+ Astrophysics Uniquely Enabled by Observations of High-Energy Neutrinos

Minimum Requirements

No minimum requirement per se, but the following are preferred. Interest in learning about the following topics is mandatory. 
Electronics: PHYS-206 lab or equivalent experience
Programming: PHYS-202, CPE 101, or equivalent experience 

Dates to work in Summer 2019

Start on June 17-24 and end on August 23-31. Dates are not yet finalized. 

Please contact me by email swissel@calpoly.edu or come to my office hours to discuss these topics more. My Winter quarter office hours are M 4:10-3PM W 10:10-11AM Th 2:10-3PM F 11:10-12AM.

I mentor several students already including Sam Hopfe, Zoe Riesen, Mercedes Vasquez, Katie Carter, Andres Rodriguez, Joe Crowley, and Abdulrahman Kauther. Feel free to ask them about their experience.

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