Undergraduates in physics are involved in laboratories at levels that range from assisting a graduate student or
postdoctoral fellow with their respective project to running their own research project. In both cases the work
may even lead to a publication in a scientific journal. Typically, assistance involves data analysis, programming
laboratory equipment, and help with sample preparation and data collection and is the route followed for stays of
one year or less in a laboratory. Independent projects, which often occur during the second of a two year stay in
a laboratory, involve both independent work that is relevant to the mission of the laboratory or trying out "a
crazy idea" that just may work. Below is a sampling of faculty research that undergrads can get involved in!
If you secure an opportunity with a faculty member and want to earn units for your work via Special Studies course
PHYS 99 or PHYS 199, click here and begin filling out your application. If you
would like to earn units via Special Studies course PHYS 199H (Physics Honors Thesis Program),
click here to learn about
applying for that program.
Biophysics, Geophysics, Physics
Understanding and using the information in quantitative measurements in Physics, geophysics, and biophysics requires a systematic method for improving models of these physical systems. We have developed this using algorithms based on undergraduate Physics courses. The work in our group requires some knowledge of programming for scientific computing; for example, the material in mathematical physics, PHYS 105A-B, or in PHYS 100A-B or PHYS 130A-B-C would be quite helpful. Undergraduate students work closely with graduate students to address both new methods and new problems in these areas.
Kam Arnold & Brian Keating
Dr. Arnold's research focuses on measurement of the intensity and polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). His future plans include developing technology for the next generation of detectors/telescopes. Dr. Keating and his team develop instrumentation to study the early universe at radio, microwave and infrared wavelengths. Dr. Keating and Dr. Arnold co-host UCSDs Cosmology Research group.
In the Averitt Lab, students use lasers to investigate and control the properties of materials. The lasers used produce pulses that are nearly a million times faster than existing computers. Such fantastic time resolution allows for tracking the motion of electrons in solids with exquisite precision, similar to stop-action photography. This enables understanding of the properties of materials in new and novel ways. Even more exciting, these lasers are used to control the properties of materials, turning insulators into metals, non-magnets into magnets, and ordinary conductors into superconductors. Over the years, we have had numerous undergraduates participate in these studies, providing hands-on experience with state-of-the-art research at the forefront of what is possible in the 21st century.
Quantum Physics, Quantum Computing
The Barreiro Lab is building two ultracold Strontium experiments aimed at (i) creating new states of matter and realizing a (fermionic) quantum computer and (ii) realizing quantum sensors for fundamental physics and applications. Undergrads are typically expected to have programming experience and prior completion of PHYS 100A-B-C.
Dr. Boggs is searching for the origin of antimatter in the Milky Way using balloon- and space-borne gamma-ray telescopes. With spectroscopic analyses of data from instruments like COSI, Fermi/GBM, and INTEGRAL/SPI, the astrophysical sources as well as the regions where matter and antimatter annihilate are studied. We provide opportunities for undergraduate students to get involved in data analysis and instrumentation projects, helping to solve one of the most mysterious problems in astrophysics.
Interested students should contact:
The Cool Star Lab led by Prof. Adam Burgasser uses astronomical observatories to investigate the lowest-mass stars and extrasolar planets. Undergraduate researchers in the lab analyze spectra and light curves across the electromagnetic spectrum to learn more about the physical properties and evolution of these celestial objects.
Massimo Di Ventra
Dr. Di Ventra's current research aims at developing a new physics-based computing paradigm, named memcomputing, to tackle hard problems efficiently. This paradigm is based on dynamical systems with memory. Possible research includes the study of the transient and equilibrium properties of these dynamical systems, their phase space and the physical correlations that lead to efficient computation.
Fusion, Astrophysics, Plasma Physics
The Fusion and Astrophysical Plasma Physics Group led by Patrick H Diamond, focuses on theoretical problems related to nonlinear dynamics and turbulence in magnetically confined plasmas and in cosmic plasmas. Research topics for undergrads include nonlinear evolution of drift waves, structure formation in turbulence-especially mesoscopic plasma flows, self-organization of profiles, cosmic ray acceleration, and magnetic dynamos.Work typically involves a mix of analytical theory and computation. Highly motivated and well qualified undergrad students are welcome.
As part of the CMS experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider, Professor Duarte's research group performs measurements of the Higgs boson and searches for exotic new physics. The group also investigates hardware-accelerated machine learning as well as geometric deep learning (i.e. graph neural networks) for particle physics.
Michael Fogler's research is focused on theoretical investigation of optical, electrical, and mechanical properties of new atomically thin materials such as graphene. Opportunities for undergraduate students include developing and running of numerical simulations, analytical modelling, and data analysis.
Dr. Grinstein's research is in theoretical particle physics, creating and testing mathematical models of the subatomic world of elementary particles, like quarks and the HIggs boson. One aspect of the work involves making predictions of mathematical models that can be tested in experiments at atom smashers like the huge “Large Hadron Collider” (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland. The UGs Dr. Grinstein is currently mentoring start by learning the basics of particle physics. Then he asks them to use particle physics software tools (eg, Madgraph) to compute and analyze rates of collisions at the LHC, or other future colliders, to test the validity off the model.
Tarun Glover research revolves around universal properties of quantum mechanical systems. He asks questions such as: What is the nature of entanglement at low temperature in materials? What is quantum chaos and how can one measure it experimentally? How can one exploit quantum mechanics to make faster computers?
High Energy Physics
Dr. Jenkins' field of high-energy theory doesn’t lend itself to undergraduate research. Students interested in this area are encouraged to take advanced coursework and to work in an experimental high-energy lab if hoping to gain lab experience.
Dr. Jun's lab studies fundamental quantitative principles underlying how one cell becomes two cells. They take multidisciplinary approaches including microscopy, microfluidics, molecular biology, and mathematical modeling. We typically have several undergraduate students working on research problems with graduate students and post-docs in the lab on microscopy, image analysis, and E. coli genetics. Our undergraduate students stay at least two years in the lab, and most of them go to top graduate schools.
The Koslover group uses theory and computational modeling to explore the uniquely complex physical environment within living cells. They study the transport of organelles throughout the cell, the dynamics of reactions confined in complex cellular structures, and the mechanics of cytoskeletal filaments and their networks. Students in the Koslover group develop and solve mathematical models, extract quantitative parameters from live imaging data provided by collaborating groups, and write software for efficiently simulating cellular processes.
Research in Brian Maple's lab involves the preparation of novel materials and the study of their properties as a function of temperature, magnetic field, and pressure. These materials exhibit phenomena of great fundamental interest that are not well understood, and Many of these materials may have potential for applications in technology. Phenomena we investigate include superconductivity (where the electrical resistance vanishes below a certain temperature called the superconducting critical temperature), magnetism, quantum critical behavior, thermoelectricity, topological phenomena, etc.
Professor McGreevy's current research centers on the study and application of quantum field theory, both in condensed matter physics and in high energy physics. Occasionally this involves projects which are appropriate for undergraduates. Such projects typically involve small-scale numerical simulations.
In our group, we develop sensitive detectors to search for dark matter at a deep underground laboratory. The undergraduate students can work on various aspects from developing data analysis tools to improve and understand the dark matter detector, to designing and testing prototype detectors for the next generation experiment. They can also work on engineering related tasks such as readout and control of instruments and electric field simulation with finite element tools.
Dr. Sandstrom studies the interstellar medium and star formation in nearby galaxies using a wide range of multi-wavelength observations. Undergraduates in her lab analyze multwavelength observations from telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel, and the VLA to study the distribution and properties of dust in nearby galaxies. With such observations, we hope to learn how interstellar dust is produced, destroyed and altered in the interstellar medium and how that influences the process of star formation.
Experimental atomic and plasma studies using the antiparticle of the electron, the positron. The work is done in laboratories in the Mayer Hall physics building. Undergraduate students can assist in many ways including helping design and build apparatus, interface computers to experiments, and analyze data.
David Tytler works with supercomputers to simulate the gas between galaxies, to understand how it is heated and distributed in space. He also designs optical instruments, from the small to huge telescopes.
In 2016-17, and again in 2017-18 the CASS Optical and Infrared lab group filled student observing positions for astronomical observations using the 1-m telescope at Lick Observatory. The student was employed by the lab to conduct observations 2-3 times per month for the near-infrared SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) observing campaign. Observations were conducted all night in the remote observing facility in the Science Engineering Research Facility (SERF) at UCSD, weather permitting. The group looked for a motivated student who was interested in learning more about observational astronomy, using telescopes, and learning about SETI. In each year, the position was filled by an junior-level physics major specializing in astrophysics.
Frank Wuerthwein & Avi Yagil
Wuerthwein & Yagil’s groups mainly work on analyzing data from the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), in Geneva, Switzerland. They also develop advance software algorithms and computing infrastructure towards the upgrade of the experiment for high luminosity running of the LHC.