The following projects may be available within Physics.  Please seek out faculty members to discuss details - contact information is on the faculty page.  Look below the table for a more detailed description of projects.  If you do not yet have a project, complete this form and email to Clarissa Amundsen by Friday of week 3 of Spring term.  Please notify Dr. Tate (copy Clarissa Amundsen & Dr. Jansen) once (i) you and a faculty member have agreed on a project or (ii) you have an advisor outside of physics or (iii) an REU or some other project identified.

  Current 2017 students Total 2017 projects Project short title
Dray, Tevian (Mathematics)   1 General Relativity or Octonions
Giebultowicz, Tomasz   3 or 4 (1) Monte Carlo modeling of TRIGA reactor  (2) planetary motion(modeling (3) measure proton precession (exp).
Gire, Elizabeth   2 (1). Sense making (2) quantum operators (3) contours & surfaces (4) partial derivatives pre/post test analysis (5) energy & entropy pre/post test analysis
Graham, Matt 3 3 (All projects taken)
Hadley, Kathryn   4 Astrophysics computational
Jansen, Henri   2 (1) kinetic energy functional (computation) (2) Model Scattering problem  (computation)
Kornilovich, Pavel (Hewlett Packard)   2 Computational modeling - nematic liquid crystals
Lazzati, Davide  


(1) Monte Carlo simulations of radiation transfer in gamma-ray burst outflows (2) Non-linear effects in cosmic dust nucleation, condensation, and growth
Lee, Yun-Shik   1 (1) High-field terahertz generation in lithium niobate (exp) (2). Nonlinear electron dynamics in graphene oxide (exp)
Manogue, Corinne   2 (1). Sense making (2) quantum operators (3) contours & surfaces (4) partial derivatives pre/post test analysis (5) energy & entropy pre/post test analysis
McIntyre, David   3 1) Optical spectroscopy of materials. (exp). 2) Acoustic spectroscopy and Fourier analysis (exp)
Minot, Ethan 2 3 van der Pauw technique (exp)
Ostroverkhova, Oksana 2 3 (1) analysis of single molecule trajectories (exp/prog) 2) development of charge measurement method using optical tweezers (Exp);  3) materials characterization (film deposition, measurements of optical and electronic properties)
Qiu, Weihong 1 3 (1) Computer modeling the coordination and collective properties of motor ensembles (with DR). (2) Single-molecule dissection of the kinesin directionality determinant. (3) Determine how a novel minus end-directed kinesin steps using high-precision single-molecule tracking.
Roundy, David 2 4  (Comp) (1) freezing behavior of hard polyhedron fluids. (2) freezing of a softly repulsive fluid (3) Numerically modeling  electrical behavior of graphene (4) evaporation of the Lennard-Jones fluid. 5. ground state of the helium atom.
Schellman, Heidi 3 3 (All projects taken)
Schneider, Guenter   2 (comp) Solve compuational problems (in particular systems of coupled differential equations) using GPUs. We'll use WebGL and if time permits CUDA.
(biophysics,comp) Perform molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules using VMD/NAMD or VMD/MWChem.
Sun, Bo 1 3 (exp) (1) Design a 3D-printable microscope for single cell movement tracking ; (2) Measure the rheology of artificial tissue during cancer progression
Tate, Janet 2 3 (exp) (1) Transport in CuSnSe alloys (2 students) (2) Optical properties of CuSnSe alloys
Walsh, KC   2 Qualtiative (1) Project BoxSand -develop & track
Zwolak, Michael   2? TBA


A project in relativity would likely require some prior knowledge of GR and a proposal originating with the student.
A project involving the octonions would likely involve more math than physics


Project T1: There is a Monte Carlo program called MCNP6, a highly professional tool used by a wide variety of scientists and technological researchers -- e.g., by physicists designing apparatus for high-energy accelerator experiments, by people doing research in reactor physics and engineering, or even by those developing new types of nuclear weapon. Essentially, every student of Nuclear Engineering should be familiar with this program. Yet, for many of them learning how to use the MCNP6 program  appears to be too challenging. The art of using MCNP6 is not easy in its own right -- and, to make things even worse, the tutorials are PURPOSEDLY made "user-unfriendly". It's because of the aforementioned possible usage of the program for developing nuclear weapon.  However, there are students who will never-ever work on nuclear weapon, but they may do much valuable work in the area of peaceful uses of nuclear energy. It's certainly worthwhile to help them to acquire at least a basic proficiency in using MCNP6, or, more generally, of using Monte Carlo tools for solving problems in reactor physics or in practical designing of new reactor types.

Then, the goal in the project I'm proposing is to develop a "tutorial" that would introduce the students into the "philosophy" of Monte Carlo modelling, by guiding them through several tasks. Some time ago I have written a few MC programs of various levels of complexity: simulating neutron passage through simple absorbers, more complicated ones (e.g., consisting of many layers of materials with different absorption cross sections), for determining the critical mass of fissile isotopes -- and, finally, a program simulating the very first Enrico Fermi's "pile", i.e., the first nuclear reactor ever built. The student would learn the philosophy and the methods of MC modelling by studying these programs -- and, finally, she/he will be expected to create a program simulating the TRIGA reactor (it's a popular "university reactor", there are over 100 of them worldwide, we do have a TRIGA at OSU). An important goal of this work would be to create a  "thesis" that might be used later as a tutorial by other students.

Project T2: It would be a "sequel" of a Ph403 project that has generated the Senior Thesis of Samuel McLain (who graduated in Spring 2015), is now continued by another Physics Senior Scott Kelley. There is still much work that may be done in this project -- enough for generating a third senior thesis. The project is a computational physics one -- more specifically, in the area of celestial mechanics, or calculating the orbits of different objects (such as planets, moons, comets, asteroids, or spacecrafts) in the Solar System. Such "state-of-the-arts" calculations are being conducted all the time by JPL, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, which is a part of NASA.

So, the objective of the project discussed is not to "reinvent the wheel", or to make discoveries (obviously, we cannot compete with JPL!), but to create a teaching tool that might help introductory-level or middle-level astronomy students (or even enthusiastic amateurs) to learn how the trajectories of  celestial bodies are calculated. At the introductory academic level, the material usually doesn't reach much farther than the mathematical theory of Kepler orbits -- i.e., it doesn't reach far beyond the two-body problem. The mechanics of a two-body system is, yes, a pretty decent approximation in the case of planets in the Solar System -- but it miserably fails in some other cases, e.g., one of such highly disappointing (and highly visible!) examples is the motion of Moon. A mathematical explanation of the Kepler Laws had been given by Isaac Newton -- but two more hundred years were needed for creating an analytical theory of Moon, such a one that offered a satisfactory quantitative accuracy. The most advanced "lunar theory" was created by E. W. Brown and G. W. Hill. It had been published in 1908, and it turned out to be so accurate that the 1908 version was used sixty years later for planning the Apollo flights to Moon.

Yet, the underlying math is extremely complicated -- the master equation of motion is solved with the help of multiple Fourier series. In 1984 the Brown-Hill lunar theory was given a "retirement status" by NASA, and since then all calculations of celestial orbits by this agency have been done exclusively by numerical methods. Yet, the algorithms used in such calculations are by no means simple.

As follows from the above, there is wide a "gap" between the knowledge the students acquire from introductory-level astronomy courses -- i.e., the Kepler-Newton theory -- and the knowledge currently used for the "state-of-the-arts" calculations in celestial mechanics. Thererfore, if a student after taking the introductory courses developed a strong interest in astronomy and wanted to learn more about, say, such things as planning space flights, or calculating orbits of comets or asteroids expected to fly dangerously close to Earth, this "gap" most likely would have a discouraging effect on her/him. The student simply may have "no clue" how begin even relatively simple calculations of such kind. In view of that, the underlying idea of this project is to help such students to make the "first step" towards understanding the mathematical tools used by modern computational astronomy.

In the first part of the project, described in the Sam McLain's Senior Thesis, it was shown that -- by using a version of a second-order algorithm for solving differential equations, known as the "leapfrog", which is both uncomplicated and "easily accepted by one's intuition" -- one can calculate the motion of major Solar System planets, and Earth's Moon, with surprisingly good, "nearly-professional" accuracy. The only input data for the program are the position vectors and the velocity vectors of the objects considered at a certain moment "t-zero", chosen by the user. These data are taken from the so-called "ephemerides", i.e., from astronomical tables, published by NASA and several other astronomical observatories.  Then, the program is fully "on its own", it doesn't use any external data any more, but calculates the motion of all bodies, using only the Newtonian laws of dynamics and of universal gravitation. The results of such simple "leapfrog" calculations done on a standard desktop PC appear to be surprisingly accurate -- for instance, the moments of solar eclipse maxima, obtained for a period of +/-50 years (the program may step either forward, or backward in time) differ from the "official" data, available at NASA Web pages, data only by minutes.

The second part of the project -- the one which is the topic of current Scott Kelley's Senior Thesis work -- is to use the same numerical method for calculating the trajectories of artificial spacecrafts launched from Earth, with the goal of landing on another planet.

I believe that there is still room for a third Senior Thesis project -- namely, to extend the "McLain's" and the "Kelley's" program to include even more complicated maneuvers than in the latter program -- namely, to enable one to plan trips of Earth-launched probes or manned spacecrafts to asteroids and comets (as in the ESA "Rosetta" mission, which was the first successful landing of a probe on a comet). Such flights necessarily must be aided by "gravity-assisted catapulting", and extending the "McLain's and Kelley's" programs to include such an option will be a new challenge -- definitely, a non-trivial task, but certainly "doable" for a motivated student.

Project T3. Building a proton precession magnetometer -- with a final goal that it may be used for monitoring the magnetic activity of Sun, and detecting  solar storms (there is  enough space for a team of two students).

Proton has a spin and has a magnetic moment. If particles or atoms possessing a non-zero spin and magnetic moment are exposed to  external magnetic field,
the B vector  becomes the axis of precession of the spin (or, equivalently, of the magnetic moment) -- commonly, such effect is referred to as the "Larmor Precession".   The precession frequency depends linearly on the B magnitude, and the linear coefficient  for a proton is 42.6 MHz/T (for the electron, it is 28.03 Ghz/T). So, the Larmor frequency of a proton is in the frequency range usually called "radiofrequency". So, the frequency of precessing protons can be observed using conventional radiofrequency electronic devices (in contrast to Larmor frequencies of electrons -- to observe them one has to use microwave techniques).

The fact that the Larmor frequency is proportional to B makes it possible to build highly precise magnetometers. In the case of protons, the precession frequency changes by  1 Hz corresponds to a B change of only 21.6 nano-Teslas.  The magnitude of the Earth magnetic field depends on the geographic location,
but usually its value is not far from 0.5 Gauss -- i.e., 0.05 mili-Tesla, 50 micro-Teslas, or 50,000 nano-Teslas. As follows from the numbers given above, the frequency of Larmor precession of protons in the Earth B field is slightly higher than 2 kHz. It's a frequency "one can hear" -- actually, in the simplest versions of amateur proton precession magnetometers ordinary headphones are used to detect the signal.
For a person with "musical hearing" (i.e., someone able to recognize a change of frequency being only a fraction of the frequency difference between two adjacent tones in a standard piano scale) an amateur magnetometer with headphones may be sensitive enough to detect buried iron objects. Using uncomplicated electronics methods, one can detect frequency chances as small as a fraction of 1 Hz, so the sensitivity of such instrument may reach even 1 nT or less, enabling one to find buried metallic objects not necessarily made of iron or steel.

The final goal of the project proposed is to build a proton precession magnetometer that may work continuously for weeks, and send the output data to a computer for storage -- so that one will be able to see fluctuations of the Earth magnetic field caused by the varying magnetic activity of Sun.
Solar storms, which happen once in a while (thanks God, not TOO often, because the most violent ones can knock down communication lines, or even
damage power grids!)  may change the Earth B by hundreds of nano-Teslas (see, e.g.,,, or (third figure from the top).

The proposed project will include a few steps. The fist one will be to build a very simple  amateur proton precession magnetometer using headphones for signal detection, following the recipe given in Scientific American (SciAm) February 1968 (available, e.g., in the Valley Library). The magnetic field sensor in the "SciAm apparatus" is a  plastic bottle filled with water, wrapped in a coil that serves dual purposes: it produces a "polarizing" constant B field, and then  pics up the tiny rotating magnetic field resulting from the precessing protons -- note that there are two single protons in each water molecule, so that water is an excellent medium to be used in a proton precession magnetometers.  The operation of the device is cyclic, and each cycle consists of two phases: in Phase One, a DC current (possibly strong!) is sent through the coil, thus creating  inside a magnetic field that polarizes the precession axes of the precessing protons (in order to produce an oscillating magnetic field detectable by macroscopic means, the precession axes of all participating protons should be aligned in the same direction). At the end of Phase One, the DC current is turned off. Now, Phase Two begins, in which the same coil is used for picking up a 2kHz  AC  signal created by a large number of  protons precessing in the Earth magnetic field. The signal is weak, but it is straightforward to amplify it using a simple acoustic-frequency amplifier  (in the SciAm recipe it's an amplifier made of a few discrete transistors -- we will rather use an OpAmp, I think). With the initial polarizing field is turned off , the AC signal gradually weakens -- but the relaxation time is of the order of seconds, so in the headphones one can hear a gradually weakening "whistle"-- of course,  an even better way would be to use an oscilloscope.

A success in Step One will certainly give the student(s) much encouragement and enthusiasm for  further work, by showing them that the detection of the precession frequency is feasible, even by  surprisingly  simple means! Then, the instrument may be gradually improved -- the final version, we anticipate, my be a one using an Arduino microcontroller, with a digital output and the capability of storing the data taken over a long period of time.


(1) Analyze (existing qualitative data) from sense-making sections of homework in the Paradigms courses.  
(2) Analyze existing student interviews about quantum operators.
(3) Analyze existing in-class video or do clinical interviews of students using plastic surfaces and contour plots.
(4) Analyze (existing, qualitative) pre/posttest data from MTH 254 (Multivariable Calculus) and PH 320/422 (Symmetries/Vector Fields) to study student understanding of multiple integrals and partial derivatives.
(5) Design and/or validate and/or analyze Interlude/PH423 (Energy and Entropy) pre/posttests.


Students will be working on theoretical astrophysics projects involving computational modeling of systems such as gravitational instabilities in protostellar systems, vortex instabilities, first stars and linear plasma shocks.


(1) Compute a kinetic energy functional in a simple system
(2) Model scattering problem

Kornilovich (HP - contact by email):

Search for stable knots in nematic liquid crystals. - Nematic liquid crystals are known to possess linear topological defects, known as disclinations, that typically terminate on the system’s boundaries. It is of fundamental importance to know what linear defects can exist in the bulk of a liquid crystal with the boundaries removed.  Specifically, we will be searching for stable disclination defects in the form of close loops, links and knots. Technically, the project will involve numerical minimization of the Frank energy functional, and will utilize the 3D visualization methods currently being developed at OSU CSEE (as part of a 2015-2016 Senior Capstone program). Thus the present project lies at the intersection of theoretical physics, engineering, math and computer science.

Additionally, the project is estimated to be of moderate-to-high complexity. This may this may be a good fit for a team of 2.


(1) Computational Astrophysics: Monte Carlo simulations of radiation transfer in gamma-ray burst outflows

(2) Computational Astrophysics: Non-linear effects in cosmic dust nucleation, condensation, and growth


1. High-field terahertz generation in lithium niobate - experimental project
2. Nonlinear electron dynamics in graphene oxide -- experimental project


See projects listed for Gire (these projects may be co-supervised)


(1) Optical spectroscopy of materials.  Measure transmission and reflection of thin film samples and determine optical properties.
(2) Acoustic spectroscopy.  Measure sound and Fourier analyze to determine frequency response of source and detector.  Apply to cell phones to understand digitization errors.  Use skills from PH411/412/415.


Researchers often need to measure the sheet resistance of thin-films. The van der Pauw technique is a well-established approach, but surprisingly this technique failed to give consistent results when we tried measuring conductive paper. This project would explore the van der Pauw technique, compare to alternative techniques, and determine what properties of conductive paper are causing spurious results.


(1) Analysis of single molecule trajectories (may need programming skills)
(2) Development of charge measurement method using optical tweezers (involves complicated sample prep and laser alignment)
(3) Materials characterization (film deposition, measurements of optical and electronic properties)


(1) Computer modeling the coordination and collective properties of motor ensembles -- this one likely will be co-supervised by David R and myself. 
(2) Single-molecule dissection of the kinesin directionality determinant.
(3) Determine how a novel minus end-directed kinesin steps using high-precision single-molecule tracking. 


1. Computationally modeling, using Monte Carlo, the freezing behavior of hard polyhedron fluids.
2. Studying the freezing of a softly repulsive fluid using Monte Carlo methods.
3. Numerically modeling the electrical behavior of graphene in salty water.
4. Computationally modeling the evaporation of the Lennard-Jones fluid.
5. Using variational method and Monte Carlo integration to study the ground state of the helium atom.
6. Examining the ferromagnetic phase transition by computationally studying the Ising model using a Monte Carlo approach.


(1) Computational physics: Solve compuational problems (in particular systems of coupled differential equations) using GPUs. We'll use WebGL and if time permits CUDA.
(2) Computational biophysics: Perform molecular dynamics simulations of biomolecules using VMD/NAMD or VMD/MWChem.


(1) Design a 3D-printable microscope for single cell movement tracking (probably need a group of 2-3 students)
(2) Measure the rheology of artificial tissue during cancer progression


(1) Measurement of electrical transport properties of solids, including the Hall coefficient, resistivity and the Seebeck coefficient.  The resistivity of copper-gold alloys has interesting anomalies.  Student will make alloy samples and measure the resitivity (1-2 people)
(2) Measure the thermal conductivity of insulators by the 3-omega technique


Project BoxSand aims to track students' use of open source content in the introductory courses. Students would help analyse the large data sets.


Computational projects TBA - contact by email  (Dr. Zwolak is currently on leave)