2018 REU Program

Understanding the Jerky Deformation of Solids

Faculty Advisor: Karin A Dahmen

When you step on a coke-can it doesn’t deform smoothly, but rather in a jerky way. You can even hear it crackle as it deforms. Similarly, tiny crystals (some as small as a virus), large chunks of granite, and the earth’s crust all deform intermittently via sudden slips or “quakes” when they are being stressed.  Although these systems span 12 decades in length scale, they all have surprisingly similar statistical distributions of quake sizes. We are exploring the origin of this similarity and how far it can be extended. Important applications include the transfer of results from one scale to another and the development of new methods to predict or prevent catastrophic materials failure.  The project involves comparing experimental and observational data to model predictions. Knowledge in MATLAB or other programming languages is helpful.

Laser-Cooling and Trapping of Atoms for the Production of Ultracold Molecules

Faculty Advisor: Bryce Gadway

This project will explore techniques for cooling and trapping neutral atoms for the synthesis of ultracold molecules. The undergraduate student will work with a graduate student to develop laser systems for the trapping and cooling of two species of atom, and will lead a project related to the generation of complex microwave signals for the coherent control of molecular rotation. In addition to learning about physical optics, atomic and molecular physics, and rf electronics, the student can also lead a theory project related to emergent behavior in collections of ultracold molecules.

Crystal Growth and Characterization of a New Family of Frustrated Antiferromagnets

Faculty Advisor: Gregory MacDougall

One of the most powerful means of inducing exotic phenomena in materials is to place spins on a lattice in which interactions are incompatible with the underlying crystal geometry. This scenario is referred to as “magnetic frustration”, and is closely associated with a variety of cooperative spin states at low temperatures including “spin ices”, in which low-lying excitations emulated magnetic monopoles, and “spin liquids”, characterized by long-ranged quantum entanglement. Prof. MacDougall maintains several laboratories at the University of Illinois dedicated to the discovery and characterization of new magnetic materials and the growth of large single crystals, with a particular emphasis on frustrated lattice geometries.  A student project for the upcoming summer will be the synthesis and growth of single crystal samples from newly discovered family of frustrated materials with novel ground states, and subsequent characterization with instruments in the Seitz Materials Research Lab. Interested students will learn about materials synthesis and methods for growing crystals, including the traveling float zone, chemical vapor transport and flux growth techniques.  Characterization techniques will include x-ray diffraction, SQUID magnetometry, transport, thermogravimetric analysis and heat capacity. Depending on scheduling, there is a potential for advanced characterization using instrumentation at national scattering facilities.

Imagine the Dawn of Time from Above the Clouds

Faculty Advisor: Jeffrey P Filippini

SPIDER is an ambitious instrument to learn about the physics of the early universe through observations of the cosmic microwave background - the afterglow of the Big Bang - from a stratospheric balloon 36 km above the Antarctic ice. Our lab will be preparing hardware and software for SPIDER’s second flight in December, as well as development efforts toward future ground- and space-based instruments. There are opportunities for hardware construction and characterization, as well as computational simulations of the optical chain.  No specific skills are required, but some computer experience (especially in python) is useful.

Observational Cosmology

Faculty Advisor: Joaquin Daniel Vieira

Our group develops instrumentation and performs data analysis to study the origin and evolution of the Universe. Primarily, this is done by observing the cosmic microwave background (CMB) with the South Pole Telescope (SPT), but also includes observations of distant galaxies with Hubble and ALMA, and also preparing for future observations with JWST and building simulations to help design future space missions. We are also developing advanced cryogenic optics for future CMB experiments. Students will be given a choice of projects to work on upon arrival, and the skills learned will include data analysis, basic machining, soldering, and cryogenics.

Use Liquid Xenon Detector to Search for Neutrinoless Double Beta Decay

Faculty Advisor: Liang Yang

Understanding the properties of neutrinos is of fundamental importance to the nuclear and particle physics community. The search for neutrinoless double beta decay, an extremely rare decay process, can shed light on the absolute neutrino mass scale as well as the underlying mechanism for its mass generation. At UIUC, we are working to develop novel scintillation light sensors and associated low noise readout electronics for the next generation tonne scale liquid xenon detector.The student will have the opportunity to conduct experiments using a prototype liquid xenon detector to study their response to ionizing radiation, as well as testing the performance of various photon sensors and readout electronics in the liquid xenon detector.

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.

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.

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.

Investigation of Relaxor Ferroelectrics

Faculty Advisor: 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!

Fluorescent Protein Binding in Living Cells

Faculty Advisor: Martin Gruebele

Fluorescent protein mCherry+GFP binding inside living cells. The REU student would use fluorimetry to study the effect of different environments that could induce binding, for example crowding, salt, cell lysate. This project's aim is to understand the physical underpinnings of why certain proteins interact inside cells, and others don't, and what the factors in the cell environment are that make the biggest difference.