Research Projects


Below, listed by area of research are potential mentors. You might want to contact them directly.

  • Atomic, Molecular and Optical Experiments and Theory (S. Aubin, J. Delos, I. Novikova, E. Mikhailov)
  • Intermediate Energy Nuclear Experiments (K. A. Griffioen, D. S. Armstrong, T. Averett, W. Deconinck)
  • Condensed Matter Experiments ( G. Hoatson , A. Lukaszew, M. Qazilbash)
  • Neutrino Physics (M. Kordosky, J. Nelson, P. Vahle, R. McKeown)
  • Nuclear and Particle Theory ( C. E. Carlson, C. Carone , J. Erlich, K. Orginos, M. Sher )
  • Plasma Theory and Non-Linear Dynamics ( E. R. Tracy, G. Vahala)
  • Solid State Theory ( H. Krakauer, S. Zhang, E. Rossi)
  • Medical Physics (J. Delos, W. Cooke)
  • Alternative energy sources (W. Cooke)
  • Nondestructive Evaluation at NASA Langley Research Center (R. Wincheski, C. Leckey)

Below are examples of projects chosen from the various fields represented.

Experimental Physics
High Energy and Nuclear Physics

Potential mentors: Michael KordoskyBob Mckeown, Jeffrey Nelson, Patricia Vahle, Keith Griffioen, Todd AverettWouter Deconinck


Neutrino-oscillations (with the MINOS, NOvA and Daya Bay experiments), neutrino-nucleus scattering experiments (with the MINERvA experiment), and a test-beam experiment for detector calibration are being carried out at Fermilab, the Soudan Underground Laboratory, and China. The neutrino group maintains detector prototyping laboratories equipped with state-of-the-art test equipment for testing particle detector with radioactive sources and cosmic rays, a high-bay assembly laboratory for large detector development, and a high-performance computing cluster for data analysis and simulations. Projects include design optimization, assembly, testing, and calibration of experiments and analysis projects using the collected data.
Contacts: Michael Kordosky, Jeffrey Nelson, Patricia Vahle

The Daya Bay Reactor Neutrino Experiment in China

Neutrino mixing angle θ13 is the least understood one in the neutrino mixing matrix. The Daya Bay experiment has the highest sensitivity in the value of sin22θ13 among the current generation reactor neutrino experiments. The Daya Bay experiment is located in Southern China, on a nuclear power plant campus. The Daya Bay group is currently building the last two of the eight detectors and analysing the data taken by the first two near site detectors. Projects on Daya Bay include various data analysis topics, including nuclear reactor antineutrino flux calculation, detector monitoring data analysis and physics data analysis.
Contacts: B. McKeown

Spin-dependent electron scattering

Electron scattering on polarized 3He is carried out at Jefferson Lab. In support of the research, a fully equipped polarized target facility capable of producing and characterizing target cells is maintained at William and Mary. Projects include development of NMR and EPR systems for target polarimetry, investigating novel cell technologies and analysis of cell data. The research projects can also involve the Jefferson Lab polarized 3He target and participation in currently running nuclear physics experiments.
Contacts: Keith Griffioen, Todd Averett

Parity-violating electron scattering

At Jefferson Lab several electron scattering experiments are underway or in development that use electroweak interference to search for physics beyond the Standard Model and to study the structure of nucleons. Detectors for these experiments are prototyped, constructed and tested at William & Mary. Projects include development and testing of particle detectors and their associated electronics, participation in data-taking and data-analysis for running experiments at Jefferson Lab, and computer simulation and software development for future experiments.
Contacts: David Armstrong, Wouter Deconinck

Cherenkov detector development

Professor Averett’s research is focused on studies of the structure of nucleon at Jefferson Lab, primarily through polarized electron scattering from polarized nuclear targets.  For an upcoming experiment, Averett is constructing a gas Cherenkov detector for particle identification.  A student project could include detector assembly, testing and software development.  The student may be required to frequently travel to Jefferson Lab and should arrange his/her own transportation.
Contacts: Todd Averett

Condensed Matter Physics

Potential mentors: Gina Hoatson, Ale Lukaszew, Gunter Luepke, Ronald Outlaw, Mumtaz Qazilbash.

Infrared and optical properties of inhomogeneous media

Materials with strong electronic interactions exhibit novel physics including coupled phase transitions, self-organization and collective behavior. The properties of these many-electron quantum states will be investigated with broadband infrared and optical spectroscopy covering a very wide spectral range. The idea is to use photons of light as probes of these exotic many-electron quantum states of matter from large length scales (millimeters) down to nanometer lengths scales. Correlated electron materials of interest include the oxides of vanadium that exhibit metal-insulator and structural phase transitions, perovskite manganites with metal-insulator and magnetic phase transitions, and iron-based high temperature superconductors.
Contact: Mumtaz Qazilbash

NMR (not offered this year)

Nuclear magnetic resonance at W&M is used to investigate local order and molecular motion and correlate these with the macroscopic physical properties of piezoelectric and ferroelectric materials, inclusion compounds, and polymers. Experimentally, students would use a homebuilt NMR spectrometer designed for a 7 Tesla superconducting magnet. Students could take part in the use of the 17 T facility.
Contact: Gina Hoatson

Applications of graphene double-layer capacitors for energy storage (not offered this year)

Students will work on thin film electrical double layer capacitors (sometimes referred to as ultracapacitors or supercapacitors).  The material is basically vertically oriented graphene nanosheet arrays that are used for energy storage (e.g., solar cells, wind mills, tidal generators) and high power distribution (e.g., hybrid automobiles, buses). The military would use them for lasers, rail guns and electronics where mass and volume are substantially reduced for the soldier. Films are created using RF PECVD and characterized for microstructure by SEM, XRD, surface analysis (AES, XPS, TDS, NEXAFS) and Raman spectroscopy. The capacitance and frequency response (electro impedance spectroscopy) would be evaluated by our collaborators from JME Capacitor and Case Western Reserve University.
Contact: Ronald Outlaw

Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (not offered this year)

Potential mentors: Seth Aubin, Irina Novikova, and Eugeniy Mikhailov

Optical gyroscopes enhanced by a fast-light atomic medium 

The goal of this project is to evaluate possible enhancement of an optical gyroscope performance by manipulating the dispersion of an atomic ensemble, placed inside the gyroscope cavity. We investigate a new interaction schemes that allow controllable modifications of the propagation of a light field through atoms from slowing it down to a crawl to making it propagate with superluminal (above c) group velocity. The research project will involve experimental analysis of various regimes for probe pulse propagation under a wide variety of experimental conditions, with the goal to identify regimes for lossless propagation with large superluminal group velocity for gyroscope applications.
Contacts: Irina Novikova and Eugeniy Mikhailov

Atom-based vector magnetometer 

This project will be focused on development of new methods for magnetic field detection based on coherent narrow resonances using a current-modulated diode laser. Small modulations in modulation frequency or magnetic field orientation strongly affect the optical transmission of resonant atomic vapor, enabling accurate measurements of the magnetic field characteristics. The particular goal of this project is 3D magnetic field imaging, most likely using two different orientations of a laser beam.
Contacts: Irina Novikova and Eugeniy Mikhailov

Squeezed vacuum generation 

This project will introduce students to optical fields with non-classical statistics, in particular to squeezed vacuum states: a vacuum state with reduced quantum fluctuations in phase at the expense of larger fluctuations in amplitude or vice versa. The students will work on generation of such squeezed vacuum states in Rb vapor cells, on assembly and testing of a more efficient detection configuration, and on the development of methods for generation and analysis of a pulsed squeezed vacuum field with predetermined temporal pulse shape.
Contacts: Irina Novikova and Eugeniy Mikhailov

Whispering gallery modes disk resonators for ultrasensitive temperature detectors 

This project will introduce students to a novel resonator geometry, in which light travels along the rim of a polished crystal disc experiencing constant total internal reflection – a so called whispering gallery mode resonator. A student will be able to cut and polish a disk resonator with extremely high quality and finesse. Such a resonator can be used as a basis for an extremely sensitive thermometer.
Contacts: Irina Novikova and Eugeniy Mikhailov

Ultracold molecule production

This project will work on the production of ultracold, weakly bound molecular dimers from ultracold atoms by means of photo-association and magnetic Feshbach resonances. The suitability of such molecules for magnetometry will also be explored.
Contact: Seth Aubin

Ultrafast frequency comb

This project will work on converting an ultrafast femtosecond laser into an optical frequency comb. The comb will be used to measure and lock large frequency differences between spectroscopy lasers.
Contact: Seth Aubin 

FPGA-based high-speed laser offset lock

This project will offset lock a laser to a master laser. The offset lock will use an FPGA chip, direct digital synthesis (DDS), and a microprocessor to lock the laser so that it can be scanned and jumped at high speeds over a range of ± 7 GHz. This locking technique will allow us to probe many different atomic transitions over a short time and at high magnetic fields. If the lock is sufficiently good, then it can be used for Raman transitions and 4-wave mixing in gases of ultracold atoms.
Contact: Seth Aubin

High stability, agile RF source

This project will develop a high stability, agile RF source based on a direct digital synthesis (DDS) chip. The source will be used for RF manipulation of the ultracold atoms for applications including RF evaporation to nanoKelvin temperatures, atomic clocks, and magnetometry.
Contacts: Seth Aubin

High resolution imaging of ultracold atoms

Most measurements of ultra-cold atom properties such as temperature and density absorption images of the atomic clouds, and so their accuracy is determined by the quality of the imaging system. The project will design, construct, and test a high resolution CCD imaging system for precision optical measurements of ultra-cold atoms.
Contact: Seth Aubin

Atom chip construction

The objective of this project is to construct a multilayer atom chip by bonding ultrathin wires to a substrate. This "homemade" atom chip can then be used for micro-magnetic trapping and RF evaporation of ultracold atoms. The addition of multiple layers to the atom chip permits the integration of RF and microwave transmission lines for further manipulation of the internal and external atomic states.
Contact: Seth Aubin

Theoretical Physics

Potential mentors: Carl Carlson, Christopher Carone, Joshua Erlich (particle physics); Marc Sher (Particle/Astrophysics); Gene Tracy(Non-linear dynamics); John Delos (Atomic and Molecular); Enrico Rossi, Henry Krakauer, and Shiwei Zhang (Condensed Matter Physics).

Condensed Matter Theory

Dirac materials are a new class of materials that have recently been realized experimentally. Examples of Dirac materials are graphene and 3D topological insulators. In a Dirac material the electrons behave as massless Dirac fermions. In the presence of disorder to achieve experimentally relevant results it is necessary to consider several disorder realizations. This can be done efficiently by solving several copies of the physical problem with different disorder realizations in parallel on a supercomputer. The parallelization and solution of the mathematical equations describing the physics of Dirac materials in the presence of disorder, and the visualization of the results, do not require an advanced knowledge of the underlying theoretical models and would be very helpful for our understanding of the interplay of interactions and disorder in these materials.

Building on top of the JAVA program: Diffusion Quantum Monte Carlo, A Java Based Simulation and Visualization Program a student could implement importance sampling and study population dynamics. A student could make a similar pedagogical tool for a new method developed in our group called auxiliary-field quantum Monte Carlo. A Matlab program has been written for this method. Implementation of visualization of this calculation would be very useful.
Contacts: Enrico Rossi, Henry Krakauer, Shiwei Zhang

Atomic and Molecular Theory

Transport and Control at the Quantum-Classical Boundary

The construction of quantum wave-functions from classical trajectories provides a unique depth of insight. The breakup of excited states of atoms and molecules can described using chaotic transport, and a mathematical construct called a homoclinic tangle. Currently we are examining transport in ultracold gases, which as a function of temperature goes from the extreme quantum regime to the semiclassical regime. We are now predicting and will interpret the results from experiments by S. Aubin. This topic was initiated in undergraduate research projects, and four undergraduates have contributed to and are co-authors of papers we have already published on this subject. Contact: John Delos

Particle Physics (not offered this year)

Recent astrophysical data have been applied to particle physics questions such as the nature of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy. REU students have combined various data such as the cosmic microwave background and Type Ia supernova probes of the expansion history of the universe. Students can continue this research by performing global fits including recent cosmological data to constrain cosmological parameters.

Another area in which REU students have had an impact is in models of strongly interacting physics motivated by the AdS/CFT correspondence in string theory. Many observables can be calculated in these models by solving equations of motion for fields in extra-dimensional spacetime. Numerical solutions can be found using Mathematica, allowing the prediction of observables. Future projects include an analysis of modifications to existing models in an attempt to improve their accuracy, and, e.g., can also address the phase diagram of quantum chromodynamics. The underlying physics in these projects is complicated for most undergraduates, but the technical requirements are minimal, requiring only an understanding of Lagrangian mechanics and differential equations. A previous William & Mary REU project along these lines has led to a recent publication.
Contacts: Carl Carlson, Christopher Carone, Joshua Erlich and Marc Sher


Interdisciplinary topics

Biofuel Development/Environmental Remediation

Algal-based biofuel holds great promise for being a renewable energy source. However, many current approaches produce biofuel while severely taxing the environment by using water, energy, fertilizer, and producing excessive green-house gas. Our approach, growing wild algae in its natural environment, solves all these problems and it can clean up the Chesapeake Bay as an added benefit. This project is still in its earliest stages, so we need aspiring physicists to develop new technology, to model the planned algae farms, and to help with the experiments on the picturesque York River, near the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Contact: Bill Cooke

Concentrated Solar Power Energy Storage

There are several Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) facilities operating around the world.  These facilities use the sun’s energy as a heat source to generate electric power.  Since the solar power is first converted to heat, it seems that storing that heat will easily allow these facilities to average out peak periods, and even still produce electrical power at night, if the heat energy can be conveniently stored and transported.  We are investigating the use of molten salts as the storage medium for these designs.  Molten salts (primarily sodium and potassium nitrates) show great potential, but can produce significant corrosion at the high temperatures necessary for CSP. We will be using a wide variety of techniques to investigate this corrosion and intend to find ways to minimize the problems it causes.

Contact: Bill Cooke

Medical Physics

Development is underway of a continuous, noninvasive, purely electronic monitoring systems to give warning of infectious disease in infants in neonatal intensive care, and to monitor for apnea in such infants. Data from neonates have been collected and now three types of quantitative analyses of this new data set are needed: (1) statistical analyses, to give precise numbers representing risk of infectious disease or impending apnea events; (2) pattern recognitions, to identify apnea events in the chest impedance signal; (3) systems modeling of the coupling between heart and respiration, to provide at least partial explanations of normal and abnormal behaviors.
Contacts: John Delos

Diffuse Optical Tomography for Brain Imaging

Near infrared light easily penetrates through living tissue.  If you have ever shined a flashlight through the tissue connecting your fingers, and seen the red glow, then you have already seen this.  We do not usually use that light to see inside tissue because the light is strongly scattered, so your tissue fogs up the image.  However, if we use multiple point sources, and detect the transmitted light at multiple different angles, it is possible to reconstruct an image.  We are developing new technology to make it easier to collect these samples for image processing using optical multiplexers and time-of-flight cameras.  We need enterprising students to work on the optics, the computer analysis and the electronics involved in these new technologies.
Contact: Bill Cooke

Advanced Material Characterization Research at NASA Langley Research Center

Potential research projects exist in the characterization of advanced materials for aerospace applications.  In one area, the development of a sensory alloy for localization of high strain fields in airframe structures is under development. During the summer the student would assist in the characterization of the prototype material using a novel sensor developed to measure the magnetic and electrical properties of the material at sub-millimeter length scales.   The student will assist/be responsible for data acquisition during controlled fatigue crack growth experiments, data processing and analysis.

A second potential project area involves the characterization of carbon nanotube based materials for structural applications.  NASA Langley Research Center is leading an effort to develop structural nanocomposites based on commercially produced carbon nanotube yarns and sheets.  While the materials have been applied for electrical applications, the structural performance of the materials currently lag behind that of state of the art carbon fiber composites.  This research effort is designed to develop methods to increase the strength of the nanotube based materials through alignment of individual carbon nanotubes, densification of nanotube sheets and yarns, and cross-linking of individual and bundled tubes.  The student will participate in the optimization process and measurement of optical, electrical, and/or ultrasonic properties of the materials at various stages in processing.
Contacts: Russell A. Wincheski and Cara Leckey