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Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Undergraduate students in the physics department have the opportunity to get hands-on experience working with our faculty members. Below are some current projects open to interested students.

(For additional information on research opportunities for undergraduates, visit our undergraduate careers page.)

UT Research Projects for Undergraduate Students


Accelerator Based Particle Physics (Contact Dr. Stefan Spanier)

The High Energy Particle Physics group of the University of Tennessee (UTK) searches for new fundamental particles and the forces with the CMS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. Most recently, our collaboration found a very good candidate for the Higgs boson which is predicted to give mass to any particle interacting with it. Particle detection at the LHC is challenging due to the high rate of collisions and the irradiation of detectors. More new particles are expected and the LHC will search for them at even higher rates and energies. We study diamond detectors as potential application for measuring the trajectories of charged particles to potentially replace the commonly used silicon detectors. Those types of detectors are also used for medical imaging, homeland security, nuclear reactors, fast dosimeters etc. The goal is to establish the robustness of those detectors but also develop the best readout configuration such as 3D electrodes.

We have a laboratory here on campus using radioactive sources to provide charged particles. If you are interested in hands-on experience you can setup a charge sensitive amplifier and an alpha-source to study the charge collection properties of prototype detectors. We will irradiate sensors at strong sources such as the HIFR of ORNL and classify their response with this test stand. There is also the opportunity to participate in the installation of a fast amplifier to study the time evolution of the charge signal in those detectors.

There is also the opportunity to get involved in particle searches using computers if you have knowledge and some experience with C or C++ and statistical data analysis.

For more information, please contact Dr. Stefan Spanier by e-mail: spanier@utk.edu, by phone: 865-974-0597, or come to my office: 502 Nielsen Physics.


Accelerator Physics at the Spallation Neutron Source (Contact Dr. Sarah Cousineau )

The accelerator physics group at the Spallation Neutron Source project is seeking interested candidates for undergraduate research internships. The project will involve simulations of high intensity particles beams in the SNS accelerator, and beam loss and radiation deposition calculations, using existing software. This work is a critical part of a larger project focused on designing, fabricating, and installing a laser-based ion stripping system in the SNS accelerator.

The SNS is the most powerful pulsed neutron source in the world, and is driven by the only superconducting proton linac in existence. The combination of new technology and record-breaking beam intensity make the SNS an exciting place to conduct research for students at all levels.

Interested candidates should contact: Sarah Cousineau (scousine@ornl.gov); http://neutrons.ornl.gov/contact/cv/Cousineau/.


Astrophysics (Contact Dr. Mike Guidry)


Bright Source of Neutrons (Contact Dr. Yuri Kamyshkov)

Brightness enhancement of cold neutron source with diamond nanoparticles.

It was recently shown that non-expensive powder of diamond nanoparticles in layers of few centimeters can reflect slow neutrons more efficiently than high-technology neutron super-mirrors. This reflection is not specular, but can be used for enhancement of brightness of neutron sources with the spallation target. Due to this enhancement 1 MW target can shine like 10 MW target. Than can be used e.g. in the design of the neutron spallation source for the "Project-X" accelerator at Fermilab. This research project will be focused on computational Monte-Carlo simulations of the diamond nanoparticle reflectors. To be learned: basics of neutron scattering, computational Monte-Carlo methods, FORTRAN programming, statistics, data analysis and presentations of the results. Students interested in physics and computational methods are welcome to contact for interview Prof. Yuri Kamyshkov at [kamyshkov@utk.edu]. Immediate involvement in the project this semester (Fall, 2012) is possible for 1,2, or 3 research class credits.


Crystal Growth Capability (Contact Dr. Pengcheng Dai)

In my lab, I am looking for an undergraduate who is willing to learn crystal growth capability using the infrared floating zone furnace. In addition, the student will learn how to detwinn single crystal samples of high-temperature superconductors. If all works well, we hope such a student will stay for a Ph.D. degree at UT using neutrons to study strongly correlated electron materials. For our group's activities and publications, please see http://pdai.phys.utk.edu for more information.


Dark Matter (Contact Dr. Yuri Kamyshkov)

Calculation of possible interaction of Light Dark Matter particles with gas detectors.

Dark Matter is one of the biggest puzzles of the modern physics. It is known definitely that Dark Matter exists in the universe; it is even more abundant than the regular matter; however, the nature of Dark Matter is not understood. This research project will be focused on calculations that should answer the question how Dark Matter can be detected in the gaseous detectors filled with hydrogen or methane. This may allow detection of Dark Matter in the new unexplored region of masses. To be learned: physics of atomic collisions, computational Monte-Carlo methods, FORTRAN programming, statistics, data analysis and presentations of the results. Students interested in physics and computational methods are welcome to contact for interview Prof. Yuri Kamyshkov at [kamyshkov@utk.edu]. Immediate involvement in the project this semester (Fall, 2012) is possible with 1,2, or 3 research class credits.


Experimental Condensed Matter Physics – X-ray spectroscopy Data Analysis (Contact Dr. Norman Manella)

The activity of Dr. Mannella's group is based on the study of the electronic structure of strongly correlated electron systems such as high Tc superconductors, thermoelectric materials and giant magnetoresistive materials. Experiments are carried out at synchrotron radiation facilities due to the availability of different soft x-ray spectroscopy such as Angle Resolved Phototemission (ARPES), x-ray absorption (XAS) and x-ray emission (XES). At present, the data analysis is based on a collection of macros running under IGOR software, one of the most common data analysis software. All these macros have been independently developed by the various group that manage the the end stations at synchrotron facilities such as the ALS (Berkeley, CA), APS (Argonne, IL) and Elettra (Trieste, Italy). It is desirable to compile a user-friendly software that could handle the analysis of the data collected in different experiments in only one workbench. Available is a position for a motivated undergraduate student who will be responsible for the design and testing of such as a user-friendly interface, and for writing a new collection of macros based on the existing ones. The project constitutes an opportunity for undergraduate students to learn how different soft x-ray spectroscopic experiments are used to unveil different properties of solids. This experience would also constitute an opportunity for students to acquire a sound knowledge of the basis of data treatment, possibly turning in the near future in an RA position for a Ph.D. degree at UT to study complex electron systems with x-ray based spectroscopies. See http://www.phys.utk.edu/faculty_mannella.htm for a more detailed description of the activities.


Interactive Animations in Science (Contact Dr. Mike Guidry)

Development of state-of-the-art programming for interactive animation in the sciences. Present efforts center on object-oriented programming in languages like Java and Flash + Actionscript in the fields of astronomy, physics, biology, and genetics. These efforts underlie the development of a next generation of interactive and web-deliverable interactive textbooks in these fields for several major publishers. They also provide the basis for a variety of practical applications such as demonstration for non-specialist audiences of how drugs work in the body, the principles of DNA fingerprinting, science issues in bioterrorism, or how various high-tech medical devices function. Students will participate in the development of those interactive projects and gain extensive practical scientific and programming experience in the process. These projects can have strong overlap with areas 2, 3, and 4 listed under Topics in Computational Science, and the scientific problem depends partially on the interests of the student. Involves programming in some combination of Java, Flash Actionscript, JavaScript, XML technologies such as XML, SVG, or MathML, and database technologies such as PostGresSQL.


Mathematical Physics: Symmetries and Algebras (Contact Dr. Mike Guidry)

Symmetry in mathematical physics: application of algebraic symmetry principles to the understanding of problems in various fields of physics (condensed matter, particle physics, nuclear physics). Present efforts center on a new theory of high-temperature superconductivity based on Lie algebras defined in the fermion degrees of freedom, and other possible applications in condensed matter physics.


Mirror Matter (Contact Dr. Yuri Kamyshkov)

Calculation study of the possibility of Mirror Matter detection.

Results of some recent experiments performed with ultra-cold neutrons can be interpreted as indication of transformation of neutrons to mirror neutrons that disappears from our world. One can see for example popular discussion at http://www.universetoday.com/95870/. Research project will be a calculation study on how to detect such a transformation to mirror matter in a less ambiguous experiment. Students interested in physics, mathematics, and FORTRAN computations are welcome to contact for interview Prof. Yuri Kamyshkov at [kamyshkov@utk.edu]. Immediate involvement in the project this semester (Fall, 2012) is possible with 1,2, or 3 research class credits.


Neutrino Detector R&D (Contact Dr. Yuri Kamyshkov)

Calibrate the linearity of liquid scintillator by Compton scattering.

Neutrino oscillation experiment NOνA at Fermilab will employ huge volume of liquid scintillator with mass ~ 10,000 tons where neutrino energies will be measured. A small prototype of this precision detector was built at UT in order to calibrate the linearity of detector energy response with the help of Compton gamma-spectrometer, where monoenergetic gamma-rays scattered at the fixed angle will produce in the scintillator the monoenergetic electrons. Research project will include measurements of NOνA scintillator with the Compton gamma spectrometer at UT lab and the data analysis. To be learned: Compton effect, liquid scintillator detectors, WLS fibers, radioactive gamma source, germanium detector, electronics, trigger, computer data acquisition, LabVIEW, programming, data analysis and presentations of the results. Students interested in physics (not necessarily only physics majors) are welcome to contact for interview Prof. Yuri Kamyshkov at [kamyshkov@utk.edu]. Immediate involvement in the project this semester (Fall, 2012) is possible with 1,2, or 3 research class credits.


Neutron to Antineutron Transformation (Contact Dr. Yuri Kamyshkov)

Computational optimization of sensitivity for new NNbarX experiment for Project-X at Fermilab.

New fundamental physics experiment was recently proposed for the Project-X at Fermilab where transformation of matter to antimatter will be searched with cold neutrons from spallation target source. Sensitivity of this experiment depends on large number of different parameters that need to be chosen to optimize the sensitivity and the cost of proposed experiment. This research project will be focused on development of FORTRAN software for neutron transport and sensitivity optimization. To be learned: neutron physics, computational Monte-Carlo methods, FORTRAN programming, statistics, planning of big experiments, data analysis and presentations of the results. Students interested in physics and computational methods are welcome to contact for interview Prof. Yuri Kamyshkov at [kamyshkov@utk.edu]. Immediate involvement in the project this semester (Fall, 2012) is possible for 1,2, or 3 research class credits.


Nuclear Many-Body Theory (Contact Dr. Thomas Papenbrock)

An approximate model for a neutron gas consists of fermions with a short-range interaction and an infinite scattering length. This model captures some of the essential properties of the nucleon-nucleon interaction and is presently investigated experimentally in ultracold atom gases. We want to investigate such systems theoretically and compute their ground-state energies and densities. Undergraduate students who want to participate in this project should have an interest in theory, and a basic understanding of quantum mechanics.


Nuclear Physics Detector Construction (Majorana Project) (Contact Dr. Yuri Efremenko)

Looking for a student who likes to get extensive experience in particle detector construction. During 2012-2013 we will build large aria veto system for the Majorana experiment. Majorana is a major USA based initiative to look for a neutrino less double beta decay. Veto system after construction and testing at UT will be relocated into Underground laboratory at the Homestake mine at South Dakota.


Particle Physics Detectors (Contact Dr. Yuri Kamyshkov)

Study of re-emission of Cherenkov radiation in the liquid scintillator for NOνA neutrino experiment.

Velocity of light in the liquid scintillator in smaller that velocity of light in vacuum. Thus, relativistic particles can move in the scintillator faster than in the vacuum. When it happens, the electro-magnetic shock wave arises, called Cherenkov radiation, mostly with a spectrum in ultraviolet (UV). Research project will include measurements of re-emission of UV radiation which makes it detectable in the visible spectrum of light. UV vacuum monochromator will be used to simulate the Cherenkov radiation. To be learned: optical properties of the materials, liquid scintillator detectors, WLS fibers, vacuum, electrical measurements, amplifiers, LabVIEW, programming, data analysis and presentations of the results. Students interested in physics and particularly in optics and particle detectors (not necessarily only physics majors) are welcome to contact for interview Prof. Yuri Kamyshkov at [kamyshkov@utk.edu]. Immediate involvement in the project this semester (Fall, 2012) is possible with 1,2, or 3 research class credits.


Shapes of Rotation Neutron-Rich Exotic Nuclei (Contact Dr. Witek Nazarewicz)

Developing a comprehensive description of all nuclei, a long-standing goal of nuclear physics, requires theoretical and experimental investigations of rare atomic nuclei, i.e. systems with neutron-to-proton ratios larger and smaller than those naturally occurring on earth. In this project, we want to investigate shapes of extremely neutron-rich nuclei at low and high angular momenta. The calculations will be carried uout within the nuclear density functional theory. Undergraduate students who want to participate in this project should have an interest in theory, and a basic understanding of quantum mechanics and programming.


Shielding of the Earth Magnetic Field (contact Dr. Yuri Kamyshkov)

Create a volume with zero magnetic field.

In a new fundamental physics experiment at Fermilab NNbarX where transformation of matter to antimatter will be searched for the magnetic field of Earth should be reduced by 50,000 times to below ~ 1 nano Tesla level. A small prototype of the shielding system was built at UT Physics lab to learn how different shielding methods and materials can be efficient for the magnetic field suppression. Research project will include measurements and analysis of residual magnetic field for different configurations of the shielding system with the purpose of finding the optimum shielding solution in the maximum volume. To be learned: measurement of weak magnetic fields, properties of ferromagnetics, hysteresis, demagnetization, programming, data analysis and presentation of the results. Students interested in physics (not necessarily only physics majors) are welcome to contact for interview Prof. Yuri Kamyshkov at [kamyshkov@utk.edu]. Immediate involvement in the project this semester (Fall, 2012) is possible with 1,2, or 3 research class credits.


Soft Matter Physics and Biophysics (contact Dr. Alexei P. Sokolov)

Soft Matter Physics is a relatively new but very fast growing and exciting field of Physics. It studies phenomena in complex materials with many degrees of freedom and strong interplay between enthalpy and entropy. These materials have broad applications from energy to biomedical fields. There are four major direction of research in our group:

Talented students who are not afraid of scientific challenges are welcome to join our group, which has a Web site here: http://www.chem.utk.edu/sokolov/index.html.

Alexei P. Sokolov
Governor's Chair, Professor of Chemistry and Physics
663 Buehler Hall, e-mail: sokolov@utk.edu
The best way to contact me is via e-mail.


Topics in Computational Science (Contact Dr. Mike Guidry)



 

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