Home 2019 Details Application Form Projects

Projects for Summer 2019

More descriptions of available projects for summer 2019 will appear here soon.  Below is a list of projects that were available for summer 2018.

Experimental Study of Neutron Beta Decay

The decay of free neutron is the simplest system in which it is possible to study the weak interaction between quarks and leptons.  Because of its fundamental nature, the parameters that describe neutron decay are important in a wide range of studies that span cosmology, nuclear and particle physics.  The experimental program includes the determination of the neutron lifetime and the measurement of correlations among the decay products.  The UT neutron physics group (Prof. Fomin and Prof. Greene) has a number of number of projects available including the simulation and design of new experimental designs, the installation of hardware, the analysis of experimental data,.including the simulation and design of new experimental designs, the installation of hardware, the analysis of experimental data.

Advisor: Professor Geoff Greene

What’s the matter with neutrons?

Neutrons are a fundamental building block of matter that has been under intense study for almost a century. Yet, there is still experimental disagreement about one of its basic properties, i.e. the neutron lifetime.  A free neutron decays into a proton, electron, and anti-neutrino in about 15 minutes.  However, two traditional methods of measuring this duration give answers that differ enough to have serious implications for Big Bang Nucleosynthesis as well as the Standard Model of Particle Physics.  The neutron physics group (Prof. Fomin and Prof. Greene) are looking for a student to help flesh out the design of a newly funded next generation experiment to measure the neutron lifetime.

Advisor: Professor Nadia Fomin


Current state-of-an-art microscopy has reached ultimate limit of being able to detect individual fluorescent molecules diffusing in a living cell.  From tracking the movement of molecules one can infer to which cellular objects these molecules are attached.  The single molecule techniques also enable to determine protein numbers in cells.  These techniques are collectively known as super-resolution microscopy.

The goal of this project is to use super-resolution microscopy to understand assembly FtsZ protein filaments in E. coli bacteria.  FtsZ filaments determine where and when cells divide.  They are part of cell division apparatus in almost all bacteria and many other organisms.  Knowing how FtsZ filaments assemble will allow to find new ways to target this assembly process with antibiotics.

Advisor: Professor Jaan Mannik

Bayesian Decision Theory for FRIB

Decision theory is an underutilized method of determining which nuclear masses would provide the most information to the nuclear physics community.  This project would utilize decision theory to optimize nuclear mass measurements at the new Facililty for Rare Isotope Beams.  Two information metrics will be used: the first which measures the amount of information obtained with respect to mass models of heavy nuclei, and the second measures the information with respect to the abundances of r-process nuclei.

Advisor: Professor Andrew Steiner

Study of Neutrinos at the SNS

Recently discovered new type of neutrino interactions “Coherent Elastic Neutrino Nucleus Scattering” used SNS as a neutrino source.  There are many aspects of this new neutrino interaction to be studied.  COHERENT collaboration is presently running a few detectors at the SNS “Neutrino Alley”.  There are many opportunities to get hands on experience with modern neutrino detectors.

Advisor: Professor Yuri Efremenko


We will explore the bizarre world of quantum mechanics.  Its properties, such as superposition, coherence, entanglement, teleportation, etc., have given rise to various paradoxes (Schrodinger’s cat, the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen paradox, etc.).  ack in the early ’80s, Feynman was among the first to suggest that these principles may enable us to process information at much faster speeds than any classical computer. Ever since, people have been trying to harness the power of quantum mechanics and build a quantum computer.  This subject is still in its infancy, but already industry giants, such as Microsoft, IBM and Google, and startups (D-Wave, IonQ, Rigetti, etc.) are trying to make use of a quantum computer.  We will design quantum algorithms and run them on existing quantum hardware.  Possible applications include quantum materials, machine learning, and quantum communications.

Advisor: Professor George Siopsis

Calculating the transverse energy from measured spectra in ultrarelativistic heavy ion collisions.

A hot, dense liquid of quarks and gluons called the Quark Gluon Plasma (QGP) is formed when nuclei are collided at relativistic speeds in heavy ion collisions.  The energy density can be estimated from measurements of the amount of energy transverse to the incoming beam of ions.  The attained energy density is used as a benchmark to demonstrate the feasibility of the formation of the QGP.  A main goal of the project is being able to extract experimental information about transverse energy production over several orders of magnitude of collision energy spanning both the lowest energies at the RHIC accelerator and the highest energies at the LHC accelerator.  This project will entail calculating the transverse energy from measured spectra using a new method and, in particular, to perform simulations that will tell us how accurate this new method is.

Advisor:  Dr. Soren Sorensen

Artificial Interface of quantum liquids of spins and electrons

The liquid states of matters represent some of the most exotic phases in condensed matter physics.  While water is the best example for molecules, many-body physics may give rise to liquid-like states of quantum particles in solids, including two of the most prominent examples in Fermi electronic liquid and quantum spin liquid.  The former has been found and extensively studied in many correlated electronic materials, the latter remains elusive and difficult to be characterized due to the underlying quantum entanglement.  In this study, we will exploit atomic layering synthesis to create heterostructures of these two kinds of material systems and explore the interfacial interaction for fingerprinting the spin liquid characters with the electron liquid.  We look for highly self-motivated undergraduate students to contribute to the heterostructure synthesis and characterizations.  The student’s contributions will be credited in co-authored publications.  This project has components in solid state chemistry, condensed matter physics, a nd materials science, providing hands-on experience and exposure to the frontier of quantum materials and academic research.

Advisor:  Professor Jian Liu

Study of Neutrinos at the SNS

Recently discovered new type of neutrino interactions “Coherent Elastic Neutrino Nucleus Scattering” used SNS as a neutrino source. There are many aspects of this new neutrino interaction to be studied. COHERENT collaboration is presently running a few detectors at the SNS “Neutrino Alley”. There are many opportunities to get hands on experience with modern neutrino detectors.

Advisor: Professor Yuri Efremenko

Machine learning for quantum mechanics:

Machine learning has become a promising tool in physics and is already used extensively to identify particles in accelerator based experiments.  Recent work has also pointed at possible benefits that can be gained in theoretical physics.  For example, it was found that machine learning can be used to speed up the diagonalization of Hamiltonians.  In this summer research project, we will try to answer an additional project.  Can machine learning be used to simplify the calculation of quantum mechanical scattering processes.  Specifically, in nuclear and atomic physics, scattering processes play an important role but are sometimes very hard to calculate.  We will solve quantum mechanical scattering problems and will analyze whether machine learning can be used to obtain predictions for such challenging interactions.

Advisor:  Professor Lucas Platter

Supernova Nucleosynthesis in 3D

We model the deaths of massive stars in core-collapse supernovae with two and three dimensional simulations.  Many of the most important observations, which can tell us if our models are correct, depend on the new atomic nuclei that are produced in the explosion.  The student will assist in running our nucleosynthesis calculations and visualizing the results so that we may better understand the nuclear contributions from these exploding stars.

Advisor:  Professor Raph Hix

Core-Collapse Supernova Simulations

The deaths of massive stars as core-collapse supernovae are some of the most powerful explosions in the Universe. The goal of this project is to assist in the analysis of state-of-the-art supernova simulations, with an eye to understanding the observable differences that will reveal the distinctive characteristics of the progenitor star.

Advisor: Professor Tony Mezzacappa

Spatial evolutionary dynamics

Our group studies how populations of cells grow and evolve.  We are particularly interested in how the geometry of the population influences the survival probability of mutations.  Possible projects include working on how mutations spread in cellular populations growing along branching tissues (e.g., in lung and kidney ducts), and how mutations spread on the surface of spherical clusters of cells, such as the surface of an invading solid tumor.  Our work applies concepts from thermal physics, such as phase transitions and nucleation and growth to understand the evolutionary dynamics.  Most of the projects involve the development of simulations, so some coding experience would be beneficial. 

Advisor: Professor Maxim Lavrentovich

Understanding the pair instability in very massive stars

The goal is to examine stars at the lower end of the mass range, to get a better understanding of their properties immediately prior to core collapse, and to potentially identify candidates for follow-up multidimensional studies.
The student working on this project will us the MESA stellar evolution code to model dynamically unstable stars near 70 solar masses. The project will start by replicating models in a recent paper and plotting the outcomes to understand the behavior of such stars in their final hours. Additional models that use more complete physics, different approximations, and/or improved model resolution may follow. Other possible extensions include using other simulation codes to continue the MESA models.
Prior experience with command shells (like bash), remote logins, plotting software, simple programming (Python), building and compiling software, and the basics of stellar evolution would be useful, but are not required.

Advisor: Dr. Eric Lentz

Projects for Summer 2018

Gravitational Wave Signature from Core-Collapse Supernova Simulations

The goal of this project is to calculate the gravitational wave signatures from our supernova group’s state-of-the-art 3D core collapse supernova signatures. This is publishable work. Moreover, it has the added benefit of potential collaboration and publication with the LIGO supernova working group.

Advisors: Professor Tony Mezzacappa

Control of low magnetic fields

A new generation of neutron experiments will need to use a magnetic field with controlled 3D magnitude and direction in the range < 1 Gauss inside the experimental volume.  The challenge of this research will be in development and testing of magnetometers and data acquisition systems for performance in vacuum and under irradiation with neutrons; it also will include the study of 3D magnetic field uniformity created by the coils with the current in the experimental volume. This research will lead to practical implementation of the magnetic control system in several new experiments with cold neutrons, e.g. in HFIR experiments at ORNL and in experiments at the European Spallation Source in Sweden.

Advisor: Professor Yuri Kamyshkov

Development of methods of neutron manipulation

A neutron has no electric charge and therefore its motion can not be affected by electric field devices.  In a constant magnetic field the neutron spin will undergo Larmor precession, but the trajectory of the neutron can not be changed.  Using neutron reflection from the surface of supermirrors we are going to design a reflection mirror with a special shape that will both focus neutrons emitted from the cold neutron source in a large solid angle and at the same time will bend the neutron beam to the angles as big at 2 degrees. This new design will be later implemented in experiments with cold neutrons at the European Spallation Source in Sweden.

Advisor: Professor Yuri Kamyshkov

Simulations of cold neutron experiments with McStas

In this project a student will learn tu use the software instrument McStas for simulations of experiments with cold neutrons. The sensitivity of new-proposed neutron oscillation experiments with the ANNI neutron beam at the European Spallation Source and with the PF1B neutron beam will be studied as examples.

Advisor: Professor Yuri Kamyshkov

Relativistic Heavy Ion Physics

The relativistic heavy ion group studies the properties of the Quark Gluon Plasma produced in high energy heavy ion collisions.  The hot, dense medium produced in these collisions reaches temperatures over a million times hotter than the core of the sun and energy densities approximately 15 times those of normal nuclear matter.  The QGP, dubbed the Perfect Liquid, has the lowest viscosity to entropy density of any fluid ever measured. Our group works on both the PHENIX experiment at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory and the ALICE experiment at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.  Students working with our group will primarily do data analysis using the C++-based program ROOT.  While the details of the project may be adapted depending on the interests and skills of the student and the needs of the group, we envision students studying energy loss in the QGP by studying jets in the ALICE experiment.  A jet is the collimated spray of particles created when a high energy parton (quark or gluon) hadronizes, or breaks down into lower mass and energy particles.  By reconstructing jets the energy of the parton can be partially or wholly reconstructed.  Undergraduate projects will involve developing and testing techniques for measuring jets or working on quantitative comparisons between measurements of jets and models developed by the JETSCAPE collaboration.

Advisor:  Professor Christine Nattrass

Neutrino Physics with Liquid Argon time Projection Chambers

The current and next generation neutrino experiments are aimed at resolving some of the very important open questions in particle physics such as Charge-Parity violation with neutrinos (important for understanding matter/anti-matter asymmetry in the Universe), Sterile neutrinos (are there more types of neutrinos?), supernovae neutrinos (astrophysical phenomena), and nucleon decay searches (proton decay is not observed till date). There is a lot of active on-going effort on building advanced detector technologies to achieve the precision we need to make these measurements.  The Liquid argon time projection chamber (LArTPC) technology is currently driving the neutrino physics program.  I am actively involved in the MicroBooNE LArTPC experiment which is located at Fermilab (Illinois) and is taking neutrino data.  I am also a collaborator on the SBND LArTPC experiment which is currently being built at Fermilab.  The summer project would involve analysis and hardware opportunities with both experiments and a possibility to travel to Fermilab to take part in the construction and assembly of the SBND experiment.

Advisor:  Professor Sowjanya Gollapinni

Future Pixel Detectors for the LHC

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) will be upgraded for very high intensity beams. This requires the development of very fast and robust charged particle detectors. We are testing such prototypes pixel detectors in the laboratory here at UT with a FPGA based readout. Detector are silicon or diamond based, and resolve 2D or 3D track positions of charged particles. The setup will be then taken to a test beam at Fermilab in Chicago. The project includes preparation of the electronic readout to test detectors with radioactive sources and possibly participation in a test beam.

Advisor:  Professor Stefan Spanier

Scanning-Probe Chemical Mapping of New Materials

The tunneling of the quanta of longitudinal waves in the electron gas of metals (surface plasmons) is used in a unique scanning-probe chemical mapping instrument.  Resolution is well beyond the Rayleigh diffraction limit of conventional systems.  Samples of major interest include graphene bordered with boron nitride and other samples of importance in research on potential materials that can partially replace silicon in modern integrated circuits.  Additional related interests include research on novel spectroscopic concepts that can be adapted to our scanning probes.  These interests are closely tied to the very different works of two Nobelists in recent years by combining key aspects of each and adding instrumentation developed solely by our group.  The student will work at JIAM.

Advisor:  Dr. Thomas Ferrell

Quantum Monte Carlo Simulations of anharmonic phonons: a possible route to high-temperature superconductivity

Quantum Monte Carlo (QMC) simulations are a vital tool for simulating systems of interacting electrons. Our group is using this technique to study electrons interacting with lattice vibrations (phonons) in crystal structures as a possible route to high-temperature superconductivity. Our particular interest is the case where the anharmonic terms of the atomic potential are significant, which we believe can lead to strong electron binding. The student on this project is responsible for running and testing QMC code, which will be used to test our hypothesis. The student will gain experience working with QMC simulations in the context of quantum materials and will gain some programming experience. 

Advisor: Professor Steven Johnston


This project is mainly experimental and introduces the students to neutrino physics.  The student working in this project will spend some of his/her time working with the neutrino physics group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the 85 MW HFIR.  Robust antineutrino detection near a reactor would enable precise measurements of the reactor antineutrino flux and spectrum, allow the search for sterile neutrino oscillation over meter-long baselines, and demonstrate the concept of reactor monitoring with surface deployable detectors for safeguard applications.  The student will be involved in the characterization and response of  the PROSPECT detector.

Advisor:  Dr. Alfredo Galindo-Uribarri


This project is mainly experimental and introduces the students to the most sensitive experiments of double beta decay.  After evidence for neutrino oscillations was obtained from the results of atmospheric, solar, reactor, and accelerator neutrino experiments renewed interest in neutrinoless double beta decay has seen a significant renewal.  The student working in this project will spend some of his/her time working with the neutrino physics group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory 

Advisor:  Dr. Alfredo Galindo-Uribarri

Beta-NMR and polarized decay of radioactive species for nuclear structure and biological studies 

Beta detected nuclear magnetic resonance has proven to be an invaluable technique to determine the spin and magnetic moment in order to study the nuclear structure of exotic radioactive species.  Due to its high sensitivity the beta-NMR with radioactive traces implanted in biological material has been demonstrated in diluted DNA samples.  This high performance experiments requires the development of beta and gamma detectors capable of operating in the high magnetic field of a NMR setup.  The student will work in testing new detector assemblies, characterizing them with sources and, schedule permitting, participate in beta-NMR experiment at the ISOLDE facility at CERN. Familiarity with the GNU/Linux operating system and the c++ programming language is recommended.

Advisor:  Professor Miguel Madurga

Preparing for a new neutron lifetime experiment

A new experiment planned at the High Flux Isotope Reactor at ORNL will set strong limits on the possible transformation of neutrons into an invisible "mirror" partner, hypothesized to explain the neutron lifetime puzzle and as a possible candidate for dark matter.  The sensitivity of this experiment depends critically on the backgrounds in the large area neutron detector due to cosmogenic neutrons, neutrons scattering from other instruments, and gamma radiation.  The main focus of this project is to characterize backgrounds from these sources using a variety of detectors.  The efficiency and energy response of the detectors will be studied using calibration sources.  The background rate as a function of position in the experimental hall, time, and reactor conditions will also be measured.  Finally, different shielding materials and geometries will be studied for reduction in background rate.

Advisor:  Dr. Lea Broussard