Research Experience for Undergraduates

The Physics & Astronomy Department has created an 8-10 weeks Undergraduate Summer Research program explicitly for department students to be held June 15-August 21, 2020. Please download and fill out the application here. The application deadline is April 3, 2020. Faculty will define a number of available research projects.

In addition to the printed application, you will also be asked to provide:

  • A one-page statement about yourself and your academic and research goals, your motivations, and your interest in doing physics/astronomy research. You can also optionally provide reasons for your research preferences.
  • Your unofficial transcript.
  • A resume/CV that includes coursework, lab skills, and coding proficiencies.
  • A letter of recommendation (sent separately to from faculty.

Programs for 2020

These specializations are available for the 2020 REU program.

Faculty: Tuan Do

Project: The Galactic Center group strives to understand the black hole at the center of our galaxy and the stellar populations surrounding it. The selected students will be working with either ground-based (Keck Telescope) or space-based (Hubble Space Telescope) observations of the Galactic Center region. Potential research projects range from understanding the nature of star formation near the supermassive black hole to studies of the variable emission from material accreting onto the black hole itself.

Faculty: Smadar Naoz

Project: Gravitational Wave sources at the center of our galaxy: In this project, we will explore the range of detectability via LISA of the possible Gravitational-Wave sources at the center of our galaxy.

Faculty: Michael Rich


  • Halos and Environments of Nearby Galaxies, HERON: The students will be comparing the radial surface brightness profiles of galaxies observed in the FUV and NUV bands of the Galex satellite, with the wide r band images taken with a groundbased telescope optimized for low surface brightness imaging.
  • A subset of galaxies have so-called XUV or extended UV disks. It has been long presumed that such disks can only be detected in the ultraviolet. However, for a subset of galaxies we have found that deep groundbased imaging is successful at detecting these disks, which are traced by star formation extended on spatial scales of 100 kpc or more. We propose to use the Thilker et al. sample as the template, and to take new observations with our telescopes in Calfiornia and Wise Observatory, Israel, as needed.

Faculty: Ben Zuckerman/Beth Klein

What are exoplanets made of? Is Earth "normal"? To address these questions, we are utilizing a powerful cosmic laboratory: polluted white dwarf stars. Astronomical spectra of polluted white dwarfs provide the opportunity to perform high sensitivity measurements of the elemental compositions of rocky exoplanets with a level of detail and precision not accessible with any other exoplanet observing technique. These measurements give us insight into the chemical nature of rocky exoplanets, processes of planetary differentiation, evolution, and even plate tectonics, as well as the prevalence of water in other star systems. The student will carry out data reduction and/or analysis of optical spectra coming from Keck or Lick Observatories. This project involves learning to use existing astronomy software packages to process CCD data, extract and calibrate spectra, and analyze those spectra in order to search for chemical elements that come from planetary bodies which once orbited the star.

Faculty: Mark Morris

Project: Dynamical Modelling of the Galaxy’s Circumnuclear Disk. The central supermassive black hole in our Galaxy is surrounded by an orbiting gas disk displaying complex internal dynamics. Using an open source hydrodynamics code that we have modified to include turbulence, we seek to simulate the structural characteristics of such a disk. The code is based on a smoothed-particle hydrodynamics formalism, and includes self-gravity as well as the injection of turbulence. The summer research student will use the code to investigate how a circumnuclear disk reacts structurally to the injection of turbulent energy over a range of possible energies, and will also explore what effect the timescales over which turbulent energy is injected should have on the outcome. Finally, the student will compare the results to the observed dynamical characteristics of the Galaxy’s circumnuclear disk.

Condensed Matter Physics - Nonlinear Dynamics
Faculty: Giovanni Zocchi

Project: Patterns with DNA crystals. Crystal growth under far from equilibrium conditions can give rise to surprising shapes, such as the beautiful patterns of snowflakes. In this project, we want to investigate the conditions under which a specific pattern, serendipitously discovered in the PI’s lab, grows out of a DNA supersaturated solution. Further aims are to observe the dynamics and understand the pattern quantitatively.

Faculty: Yaroslav Tserkovnyak

We are a theoretical group studying spin dynamics in various systems and possible applications. A few ongoing projects we have include neuromorphic computing using magnetic textures, spin dynamics and transport feature at a magnet/metal or a superconductor/magnet interface, spin correlation and entanglement in magnets... The undergraduate can fit in by working on one well post question inside a project. Mostafa and I will come up with some options in more details in the upcoming months. The student should know quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics and be comfortable with theoretical derivation and calculation. If the student is good at coding, we also have some numerical projects available.

Experimental particle physics
Faculty: Jay Hauser

Project: Study sphaleron transitions and do computer simulation studies to understand how best to improve the previous UCLA search for sphaleron transitions in 14 TeV proton-proton collisions during the upcoming LHC Run 3 with the CMS detector - perhaps by a factor of 10 or more.

Faculty: Mayank Mehta

Project: Experimental and theoretical Neurophysics. There are two possible projects:

  • Experimental project: Develop hardware+software to measure the brain signals in virtual reality and during sleep to understand how our brain creates abstract ideas. This project requires very good courses and ideally some lab experience, with either digital electronics or programming in C++ or related languages.
  • Theoretical project: Decipher the complex patterns buried in the terrabytes of neural signals measured while rats make sense of space-time generated by virtual reality. Required background: Proficiency in Matlab or Python. Digital signal processing. Ideally, know at least a few things about neural dynamics.

Faculty: Katsushi Arisaka

Project: We are investigating the physics principle of our visual perception of the external 3D space in the frequency-time domain. The student is expected to combine the visual stimulation by a Virtual Reality headset with brain wave detection by an EEG headset and eye motion tracking by a high-speed camera. Then we will measure the reaction time for various stimulations.

Nuclear Physics
Faculty: Huan Z. Huang/Gang Wang

Project: Study of Heavy Quark Interaction with QCD Matter: QCD partonic matter at extremely high temperature and energy density has been created in Au+Au collisions at Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). We will study heavy quark (Charm and Bottom) interactions with the QCD matter in central Au+Au collisions. Heavy quarks are produced mostly through the gluon-gluon fusion process during the initial impact of the colliding nuclei. After the initial production heavy quarks may scatter off partons in the QCD matter and suffer energy losses while traversing the QCD matter via gluon radiation or elastic scattering. We will investigate experimentally signatures of these heavy quark interactions with the QCD matter.

Physics/Astroparticle Physics
Faculty: Rene Ong

Project: Participate in the development of the GAPS balloon experiment to search for cosmic ray antimatter. Research will involve the construction of long scintillation detectors and the testing of high-speed electronic components. Student will also learn to program in C++/ROOT and to develop their own analysis routines. There is the possibility of carrying out some advanced simulation studies.

Plasma Physics
Faculty: Walter Gekelman

REU Research Opportunity in Plasma Physics: There are three projects under consideration for undergraduate research with Prof. Walter Gekelman.

(1) The first project involves the creation of a low temperature plasma in which the positive and negative constituents are not ions and electrons but positively and negatively charge organic molecules. Such a plasma has never been made before. The project will involve designing molecules which are inherently charged positively and negatively, and using chemical processes to isolate them. The molecules will be introduced into a vacuum system with a background magnetic field. We will characterize the plasma using probes and optical diagnostics.

(2) Plasma diagnostics involving microprobes. In collaboration with Prof. Aydin Babakhani (in Electrical Engineering) we will develop very small (mm size) microwave reflection probes using specialized sources developed in EE. The probes will broadcast swept microwave signals (0.5-100 GHz) and measure the forward and reflected power. They could ultimately become a widely used diagnostic to measure local plasma density without drawing any plasma current or impressing an electric field in the plasma.

(3) Development of antenna array for launching multiple short wavelength Alfvén waves. In the past year we have used ferrite based antennas to launch large wavenumber shear Alfvén waves. We will build a antennas with multiple windings to broadcast a lattice of high power waves. These will be used to scatter a small ( 1 mm dia) electron beam to study its chaotic motion in the wave fields. There is no guarantee but the project we choose could lead to a publication in a scientific journal.

QCD and Nuclear Theory
Faculty: Zhongbo Kang

Project: Theoretical modeling of color glass condensate. Color glass condensate (CGC) is a form of matter in an extreme condition, where the gluon degrees of freedom dominates the proton wavefunction. Theoretical CGC modeling is very important because the arise of the CGC is an inevitable consequence of the fundamental theory, Quantum Chromodynamics, and it serves as a universal form of matter that describes the properties of all high-energy, strongly interacting particles. We will model the high energy evolution of the CGC and how they can be used to describe the particle production at major experimental facilities such as the Large Hadron Collider and the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.

Questions? Contact the Undergraduate office: Françoise Queval, Student Affairs Officer, 1-707A PAB, 310-825-2453.