Home 2020 Details Application Form Projects

Projects for Summer 2020

More descriptions of available projects for summer 2020 will appear here soon.


No mistake, neutron (not neutrino) oscillations can occur in nature.  What will the neutron scillate or transform into?  Two major unsolved problems of fundamental physics and cosmology compel us to consider two possible modes of neutron transformation. To explain why asymmetry exists between matter and anti-matter and only matter but not anti-matter populates the universe, a neutron should be able to transform itself into an anti-neutron - particle of antimatter.  To make a breakthrough to another problem, a neutron with small probability should disappear into a parallel mirror world to become invisible for measurements. So far these processes were not observed due to special conditions that should be reproduced in the experiments.  We look at both types of these processes with the slow neutrons available either from the HFIR reactor or from the Spallation Neutron Source at ORNL.  During the summer time you will be participating in the design, test, and/or analysis of experiments with slow neutrons.

Advisor: Professor Yuri Kamyshkov

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


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

Assembling and testing the sPHENIX inner Hadronic Calorimeter

The sPHENIX detector will focus on measurements of jets and heavy flavor in high energy heavy ion collisions.  A key component of the detector is the inner hadronic calorimeter (iHCal), which will be assembled and tested this summer.  This student would spend the summer at Brookhaven National Laboratory working on assembling and testing the iHCal. Housing in an on-site apartment will be provided.  The stipend is expected to cover food and other incidentals.  If possible, the student would start immediately after the Spring semester.  Mentoring in the first three weeks would be in person, but after that the student would work directly with collaborators at BNL (including many other summer students) and meet at least weekly with me over Skype for remote mentoring.  A car is recommended but not obligatory.

Advisor:  Professor Christine Nattrass

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

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. Prof. Fomin is looking for a student to analyze new experimental data with Machine Learning techniques and help design next generation apparatus.

Advisor: Professor Nadia Fomin

Molecular beam epitaxy of quantum materials

Quantum materials, in general, are materials whose electronics properties are understood by laws of quantum mechanics. In experiment, material synthesis is the first step to study quantum materials, and molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) is one of the best methods to synthesize high-quality thin films or nanostructures of quantum materials, by layer-by-layer growth with a precise control of elemental composition. The objectives of this summer project are twofold: (1) learning concepts of MBE by setting up an MBE system at UT and (2) participating in actual MBE growth of topological quantum materials in the Quantum Heterostructures group at the Oak Ridge National Lab. In addition, the student will have hands-on experience with ultra-high vacuum, which is an essential technology not only for MBE, but also for various surface analytic techniques, such as scanning tunneling microscopy, x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, and angle-resolved photoemission spectroscopy.
If necessary, the summer project could be remotely conducted. The objectives of the project are three-fold: (1) understanding quantum materials, particularly topological quantum materials, in the aspect of underlying physics and material properties; (2) learning concepts of molecular beam epitaxy (MBE) as a state-of-the-art synthesis method for quantum materials; and (3) analyzing experimental data of quantum transport that reveals quantum mechanical features of the quantum materials systems. Among various quantum materials systems, focus will be on topological insulators and superconductor-semiconductor systems that may exhibit topological superconductivity.

Advisor: Professor Joon Sue Lee

Atomic engineering of quantum toy-model simulator

Condensed matters are diverse and complex, but ultimately emerge from microscopic interactions that obey the law of quantum mechanics at the atomic scale. To understand exotic quantum phenomena at macroscopic scale, such as 2D magnetism, superconductivity, and topological Hall effect, it is necessary to synthesize atomically engineered quantum materials that are designed to realize theoretical toy models and capture the underlying physics. Our group has been focusing on artificial material simulators of iconic models, including the 2D Hubbard Hamiltonian and 2D Heisenberg Hamiltonian, and characterize their quantum electronic and magnetic responses. We look for highly self-motivated undergraduate students to join this mission during the summer and beyond. Our research program provides interdisciplinary exposure to the frontier of quantum materials covering physics, chemistry, material engineering, and electrical engineering. The project will be tailored toward the student's interests and career goal. The student’s contributions will be credited in co-authored publications.

Advisor:  Professor Jian Liu

Summer at the Beaches of the Island of Inversion

The observation of spherical, tightly bound "magic" nuclei was key to confirm the existence nuclear orbitals akin to atomic shells.  For four decades this paradigm was successfully used to describe nuclear structure and reactions of most known nuclei.  Of course, Nature had different plans.  The observation of highly deformed magic nuclei in the so-called island of inversion around Mg-32 prompt a revolution of our understanding of the effect of non-spherical residual interactions in nuclei.  To this day, many nuclei at the southern and eastern limits of the island of inversion have never been studied due to the difficulty in producing them in sufficient quantities.  At the end of August 2020 our group will measure for the first time the properties of F-29 at the National Superconductive Cyclotron Facility, MSU.  The full experiment needs to assembled and tested at our laboratory at UTK prior to the experiment, allowing for the students involved to work with state-of-the-art gamma and neutron detectors, and high-performance digital data acquisition.  Subject to resolving conflicts with start of classes, the student will be invited to participate in the experiment currently scheduled for August 26-September 1st this year.

Advisor:  Professor Miguel Madurga

Supernova Nucleosynthesis

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

Machine learning for proton-proton scattering

Low-energy reactions with charged particles are challenging to carry out experimentally because of the repulsive Coulomb interaction but relevant for nuclear astrophysics.  They are also hard to calculate since the Coulomb scattering problem involves strongly oscillating wave functions.
Machine learning might provide an approach to solve this problem by training algorithms on solvable problems and applying them to harder non-solvable ones.  One or two students will learn how to train a neural network on previously generated data and how to apply the network to new testing data.

Advisor:  Professor Lucas Platter


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

Programming online physics laboratories

Online physics courses need online laboratories.  We want to develop simulated 2- and 3-dimensional environments in which students can assemble equipment and explore physics concepts by doing experiments.  The simulations should run in any modern browser.  Depending on the physics concept to be explored by the simulation, the summer student will design the visuals and either design the physics engine, or learn to adapt an available physics engine used by game developers for the project.  This project involves both working out the physics correctly and programming the simulation.  The student should feel comfortable with both.  (Here is a look at an example.)

Advisor:  Professor Marianne Breinig

Projects from Summer 2019

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

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

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