Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Undergraduate Brandon Walker (Class of 2010) in the blue shirt at the center working on the Minerva neutrino detector 300 ft below ground level in the NUMI beam hall.


Want to get involved in research? Wondering how to go about it?

First, you need to get an advisor. If you already know what kind of research you want to be involved with, check the research page or the faculty page to find a possible advisor in the area you like. If you don't know what research you might be interested in, schedule an appointment with our Director of Undergraduate Studies, André de Gouvêa, or with Dr. Michael Smutko. They can help facilitate your search for an advisor.

Next, contact the potential advisor! Whether in person, or by e-mail, or by telephone, there is no reason to be shy about talking to the faculty. (Most faculty are delighted to talk about their research!)

For examples of research that other undergraduates have undertaken, check these links: Honors Research in Physics & Astronomy, or Undergraduate Research in High-Energy Physics, or the Northwestern NASA Summer Research Program.

Researchers Wanted!

Here are projects just waiting for the right student. Contact the faculty for more information.

Venkat Chandrasekhar
Mesoscopic Physics
Three research areas are potentially available: 1. Fabrication of devices incorporating carbon nanotubes or graphene using electron beam lithography; 2) Helping in the development of a custom scanning probe microscope; and 3) Programming data acquisition and custom digital/analog electronics.

Don Ellis
Undergraduate position in simulations of the properties of new materials
The Materials Theory Group uses atomistic simulations and Density Functional Theory to study the structure and properties of new materials. Current projects include bioceramics, catalytically active oxide surfaces, multilayer and nanoparticle composites, and macromolecules. Undergraduates with some background in computation, or LINUX, or computer graphics are welcome to join one of the on-going projects.

Vicky Kalogera
Models of X-Ray Binary Stars
This project is investigating populations of X-ray binary stars in old, elliptical galaxies. In the coming months, NASA's X-ray space observatory (Chandra) will be collecting observational data on point sources in two nearby elliptical galaxies. Our group is developing theoretical models of X-ray binaries (i.e., stellar systems involving neutron stars or black holes accreting matter from their binary companion) for the purpose of interpreting the anticipated observations and investigating the origin and evolutionary history of these cosmic X-ray sources.

John Ketterson
Condensed Matter Physics

The Ketterson group exploits the Laser Tweezers (LT) technique to trap and manipulate micron and sub micron particles (including atoms) on lattices. Students involved learn to operate lasers and use CCD video techniques to track their motions. 

Yoram Lithwick
Extrasolar Planets
In the past few years, astronomers have discovered planetary systems
around hundreds of stars.  Many of these systems are shockingly different from the Solar System.  For example, we now know that around 20% of stars in the Galaxy host planetary systems that consist of planets bigger than Earth and smaller than Neptune, and that orbit closer to their star than Mercury does to the Sun.  The goal of this project is to understand and model how such  planetary systems came about.  That understanding might also teach us about the history of the Solar System.
Much of the modelling will be done with computer simulations, so you should either have a knowledge of programming or a willingness to learn.

David Meyer
Interstellar Spectroscopy with the Hubble Space Telescope
This project involves the analysis of Hubble Space Telescope (HST) spectroscopic observations of interstellar atoms and molecules. These observations are designed to probe the composition, chemistry, structure, and physical conditions of gas clouds in the Milky Way Galaxy. Beginning this Fall (2009), we will be working with new data from the recently refurbished HST to investigate the nearest cold interstellar cloud and to search for interstellar elemental abundance variations in the solar neighborhood. We have several openings for physics majors or potential physics majors (freshmen included) to work on this project.

Adilson E. Motter
Complex Networks and Chaos

Prof. Motter's group uses theoretical and computational techniques from nonlinear dynamics, statistical physics, and networks to address a variety of problems related to the physics of complex systems and nonlinear phenomena. Applications include the network modeling of biological systems, chaos in fluid flows, control of cascading failures, and design of new metamaterials. Undergraduate students from any discipline with excellent academic record and interest in theoretical/computational research are encouraged to contact the group.

Fred Rasio
Dynamics of Exoplanets

Thousands of planets orbiting other stars have now been discovered by astronomers. Most of them are in planetary systems with very surprising properties, completely different from our solar system. Understanding the dynamical architecture of these systems is key to the scientific exploration of many deep questions about  our Universe, such as planet formation in general, and the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Black Holes in Dense Star Clusters
Black holes can only be observed by astronomers when they interact with other stars. In the cores of the densest star clusters, such as globular clusters or the central nuclei of galaxies, these stellar interactions can be very frequent.  They include spectacular events such as physical collisions of stars and their tidal disruption by black holes, These are complex processes which can only be studied with multi-physics supercomputer simulations including gravitational N-body dynamics, nuclear physics, relativity, and 3-D hydrodynamics.

No prior research experience or knowledge of astronomy is required. However, all projects are computational an some prior experience with numerical simulations, computer programming, or scientific omputing would be very helpful. 

Michael Schmitt
High Energy Collider Physics
The CMS group at Northwestern is active in detector and software development, analysis of the latest data from the LHC, and studies for future colliders.  Undergraduate students are always welcome to join one or more of these projects

Tamar Seideman
Theoretical Research in Molecular Physics and Nanochemistry

Our group carries out theoretical research at the broad (and exciting!) interface between physics, chemistry and materials science. One area of interest is coherent control of matter by light and of light by matter, where we use laser pulses to control systems ranging from isolated diatomic molecules to complex solutions to plasmonic waveguides. Another area is B-field manipulation of external molecular modes, where we use lasers to align molecules in space and control their translational motions. A third area of active interest is current-driven dynamics in molecular-scale junctions, an emerging sub-discipline of molecular electronics with potential applications in fields such as molecular machines, surface nano-chemistry and materials nano-processing. Another active research area is the observation of ultrafast phenomena.

Mel Ulmer
X-Ray Optics, Clusters of Galaxies, and the Large Scale Structure of the Universe
Prof Mel Ulmer has hardware projects related to making X-ray optics and data analysis projects based on archival X-ray telescope data, Hubble imaging data, and complementary ground based data.

Farhad Y. Zadeh
Analysis of star formation in the Galactic center
This project involves the use of sophisticated image processing techniques to extract information from data taken by radio telescopes and/or the Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope. We hope to shed light on how it is that newborn stars can exist in the innermost region of the Milky Way, where there is a giant black hole whose massive gravity should inhibit star formation. Students should have an interest in computers, but programming experience is not necessary.

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September 19, 2013