REU Program

Computational DNA Nanotechnology

Faculty Advisor: Aleksei Aksimentiev

The DNA origami method has brought nanometer-precision fabrication to molecular biology labs, offering myriads of potential applications in the fields of synthetic biology, biomolecular medicine, molecular computation, etc. Advancing the method further requires controlling self-assembly down to the atomic scale. This project aims at development of computational methods and tools for determining the atomic-scale structure of DNA origami objects, exploring new types of DNA origami materials and designing DNA nanostructures for drug delivery and nanopore sensing applications. 

Atomic Spectroscopy and Laser-Cooling

Faculty Advisor: Bryce Gadway

This project will develop a system of lasers, optics, and electronics for the laser-cooling of potassium atoms to roughly a millionth of a degree kelvin. This is a critical component of an experimental apparatus that will be used to study quantum gas mixtures of rubidium and potassium atoms. Students will learn about physical optics, atomic physics, and laser-cooling. They will explore experimental techniques for sub-Doppler laser spectroscopy and heterodyne frequency offset locking, and will gain experience in working with lasers, rf electronics, acousto-optic devices, and optical fibers. Time-permitting, students will participate in the integration of this potassium laser-cooling system light with an existing rubidium Bose-Einstein condensate apparatus.    

Imaging a Black Hole

Faculty Advisor: Charles Forbes Gammie

Black holes are one of the most surprising predictions of Einstein's general theory of relativity.  A new set of experiments that will begin in 2017 called the Event Horizon Telescope will provide a new test of this surprising prediction by spatially resolving the hot plasma falling into the black hole in the center of the Milky Way.  This project will use computational models of the hot plasma to generate mock images, and explore how forthcoming measurements can constrain black hole spin.

Development of a Zero Degree Calorimeter for the ATLAS Experiment at the LHC

Faculty Advisor: Matthias Grosse Perdekamp

The ATLAS experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN uses collisions of protons and Pb-ions to discover fundamental building blocs of matter and to study their interactions. The ATLAS Zero Degree Calorimeter (ZDC) observes the non-interacting nuclear fragments from Pb-Pb ion collisions. Through this observation the impact parameter of the nuclear collisions can be determined. The current ZDC operates at radiation doses beyond the levels tolerable by  existing detector technology and requires regular repair. Our group is developing a novel liquid radiator based calorimeter that can be operated continuously under very high radiation exposure. The REU project will evaluate the optical properties of liquid radiators and wavelength shifting molecules used in the future ZDC and design and build a test device for liquid radiator stability measurements in the LHC tunnel.

Entanglement in topological states of matter protected by point group symmetries

Faculty Advisor: Taylor L Hughes

This theoretical project will explore properties of quantum entanglement in topological insulators and superconductors protected by spatial symmetries. We will consider the entanglement entropy and entanglement spectra and use these quantum informational measures to characterize these novel states of matter. We will learn some of the basic theory of topological insulators and entanglement and perform analytic and numerical calculations to study these systems. This project requires one semester of quantum mechanics and will involve numerical calculations so an ability to program in either Mathematica, MATLAB, C/C++, or FORTRAN is necessary to participate.

Synthesis and Crystal Growth of Novel Magnets and Superconductors

Faculty Advisor: Gregory MacDougall

The group of Prof. MacDougall is interested in investigating the magnetic behavior of novel materials, especially those with interesting atomic arrangements and/or correlated electron properties. This includes various forms of frustrated magnetism and unconventional superconductors. As part of this work at University of Illinois, he maintains several labs for the synthesis of new materials and the growth of large single crystals. This project involves the growth of such crystals, and subsequent characterization with instruments in the Seitz Materials Research Lab. Interested students will learn about material properties and different growth methods, including the traveling float zone, chemical vapor transport and flux growth techniques.  Characterization techniques to be employed include x-ray diffraction, SQUID magnetometry, transport, thermogravimetric analysis and heat capacity.

Nano-electronic devices

Faculty Advisor: Nadya Mason

The project involves fabricating and measuring nanostructures such as semiconductor nanowires and layered two-dimensional platelets. These materials are useful for the next generation of nano-electronic devices. The student will use a new nano-manipulator system to control the placement and configuration of nanowires and nano-plates. The student will study the devices using advanced tools such as atomic force microscopy and scanning electron microscopy. In addition, the student will work with a graduate student to perform electrical transport measurements on these devices.

Growth and Characterization of Superconducting Films

Faculty Advisor: Dale J Van Harlingen

The project involves the growth of thin films of quantum materials by pulsed laser ablation and their characterization by electrical and magnetic transport measurements.  This is a critical component of research in our lab on the properties of superconductors, magnetic materials, spin ices, and topological materials, and their implementation in devices for electronic sensors and quantum computing.  The student will learn techniques to grow thin films, measure their properties at cryogenic temperatures, and incorporate them into microfabricated devices.

Building a camera to study the beginning of the Universe

Faculty Advisor: Joaquin Daniel Vieira

We are building a new camera for the South Pole Telescope, a 10 meter telescope located at the geographic south pole to study how the universe began by imaging the cosmic microwave background. At Illinois we are building optics and electronics for the camera, which will operate at sub-kelvin cryogenic temperatures. Students will learn basic machining, soldering, optical simulations, and cryogenic techniques.

Investigation of Relaxor Ferroelectrics

Faculty Advisor: Michael B Weissman, Eugene V Colla

Relaxors are  dielectric materials with short-range ferroelectric order, but which do not develop long range ferroelectric order spontaneously at low electric field.  Since the short-range order can re-orient in response to applied fields, they keep those high dielectric and piezoelectric constants over a broad temperature range, allowing them to be used for practical electromechanical transducers in many applications. Medical applications have been limited because standard relaxors contain toxic lead.    As a consequence, a major effort is underway to find lead-free substitutes for the ones currently available. We are looking  into the physical mechanisms giving rise to relaxor properties in some lead-free materials.  This project includes working on sample preparation, and measuring and analyzing dielectric and pyroelectric properties, especially those in which different degrees of glassy order affect the formation of the ferroelectric state.  No prior experience necessary.  This is a great hands-on experimental physics opportunity!

Investigation of the Barkhausen Noise in Regular and Relaxor Ferroelectrics

Faculty Advisor: Michael B Weissman, Eugene V Colla

The Barkhausen effect, first discovered and investigated in ferromagnetic systems, can be also applied to study the polarization dynamics in ferroelectric materials. In regular ferroelectrics Barkhausen noise originates from motion of domain walls and reorientation of domain's polarization and thus can used to probe details of the domain wall dynamics. For relaxor ferroelectrics, with a disordered arrangement of local polarizations, the situation is more complicated. Their dielectric response comes primarily from reorientations of polar nanodomains (~10-50nm size scale), too small to give much Barkhausen noise. We have now shown, however, that the noise provides a very sensitive way of detecting the formation of true ferroelectric regions within the relaxor. We plan to use this technique for detailed studies of the complicated phase transitions in some familiar relaxors.

Characterizing Low Background NaI Detectors for Dark Matter Searches

Faculty Advisor: Liang Yang

Astrophysical observations have provided us with convincing evidence of the existence of dark matter in the Universe, yet very little is known about these mysterious particles.  At UIUC, we are working to develop ultra-low background NaI detectors, which can be used to detect dark matter signals at underground locations, in particular to test the annual modulation signals observed by the DAMA collaboration.  The student will be responsible for the calibration of NaI crystals and measuring their intrinsic radioactive backgrounds.  He/she will work on pulse shape analysis to discriminate gamma and alpha signals as well as develop simulation models to understand the detector response.   Prior experience in scintillation detectors and detector simulation is desired but not required. 

Jet Measurements with the ATLAS in Heavy Ion Collisions

Faculty Advisor: Anne M Sickles

Study of Jets in Heavy Ion Collisions with the ATLAS Detector at the LHC. The student will work as part of the group analyzing  data from the collisions of two lead nuclei as recorded by the ATLAS detector at the LHC collected in the winter of 2015. In these heavy ion collisions the Quark-Gluon Plasma is created. This matter is approximately 5 trillion degrees C; it is not only the hottest matter ever created in the laboratory, but the only matter in which quarks and gluons are not confined within hadrons.  Jets are the particles which come from extremely high energy quarks and gluons.  These jets are a powerful probe of the plasma. The student will  working on improving our understanding how high energy jets of hadrons deposit energy in the ATLAS calorimeter in data and simulation in order how we can use that to improve the measurement of jets in heavy ion collisions.

Development of a Muon Detector Test Stand for the ATLAS Experiment at the LHC

Faculty Advisor: Verena Ingrid Martinez Outschoorn

Following the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, Geneva, Switzerland, we are trying to discover the properties of the new particle. The Higgs boson may provide connections between the Standard Model of particle physics and new phenomena, such as signatures of dark matter. In the coming years, we are going to be collecting a lot of data at the LHC allowing us to perform these searches for new phenomena that would arise in very rare interactions that we can detect experimentally. In order to achieve this goal, my group is developing detector technologies using modern high-speed electronics that are able to select interesting events from an enormous rate of approximately 50 simultaneous proton-proton collisions occurring 40 million times per second. The REU project will be to setup a test stand using a real muon detector from the ATLAS experiment to help us test the new high-speed electronics that will be installed in the detector in the next years.