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These are examples of recent and current undergraduate research projects in our department.

Condensed matter physics / Nanoscience

Superconducting magnet control

Andy Fuller: Hardware and software for control of a unipolar superconducting magnet power supply to allow the magnet to operate in bipolar mode.

Magnetic property measurement

Sarah Hsia: Measurement of magnetic properties using the magnetooptic Kerr effect, separating effects of dichroism and birefringence.

Development of a micro-CT scanner

Stephen Dike: Developing computer software for the control of a new type of micro computer tomography scanner. This field-emission X-ray source offers capabilities that do not exist in current commercial X-ray tubes. Using this new technology, the group is developing a computed tomography system for 3-dimensional imaging of small animals for biomedical research.

Photoluminescence and electroluminescence of oxydiazole compounds

Kris Capella: Investigating the properties of potential new organic materials for LEDs that are lighter, cheaper, and more flexible than materials in current use.

Light transmission in dental materials

Courtney Pinard: Analyzing the transmission of light through dental fillings to develop better materials that use light-activated polymers as binders. Courtney also spent a month in summer 2002 doing research on the synthesis of silicon nanowires in Beijing.

Optical gap and conductivity activation energy of amorphous silicon films

Ken Varner: Hydrogenated amorphous silicon (a-Si:H) is the leading material for low-cost solar cells for future clean energy sources, so a better understanding of its properties contributes to the development of more efficient power generation. Ken also spent two summers as an intern at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado.

Nanometer-scale torsional oscillators

Aarish Patel: Manufacturing tiny paddles on carbon nanotubes, tiny carbon fibers that are 10,000 times smaller than a human hair. These oscillators are used in experiments to measure the strength of the carbon nanotubes and ultimately in the development of new kinds of sensors.

Synthesis of carbon nanotubes

Roger Holliday: Developing a method of making carbon nanotubes in liquid nitrogen by chemical vapor deposition
Kamali Horton, Shawn Rubio, Holger Kanuss: Using laser ablation to fabricate carbon nanotubes.

Purification of carbon nanotubes by filtration

Brent Young: After the carbon nanotubes have been made, they must be separated from the waste material by filtration. Developing new and more effective ways to do this combines chemical and physical techniques.

Carbon nanotube-polymer composites and carbon nanotube based devices

Rachel Rosen: Combining carbon nanotubes and polymers to make a composite material with improved strength (similar to the carbon fiber composites used to make high-tech tennis racquets and airplanes), and using carbon nanotubes to make electron emitters to be used in small X-ray tubes for medical devices and improved flat-panel displays.

Magnetism in carbon nanotubes

Jeremy Myers: Study of magnetic attraction between carbon nanotubes and sub-micron superparamagnetic particles. Moving carbon nanotubes with acoustic waves

Moving multi-wall carbon nanotubes via surface acoustic waves (SAWs)

Michael Ricci: You might think of this as putting a straw on a table, and trying to move it with a very high pitched scream; but the straw is nanoscopic (1000 times smaller than microscopic, with a diameter of a few nanometers), and the scream is produced with a voltage pulse. My experience with undergrad research has been very valuable. I’ve learned things on physics that I would not have learned in a class in addition to gaining valuable experience on high tech equipment. Working in a research group opened me up to what I will expect in graduate school, as well as in the professional world.

Computer communication

Shani Herrington and Michael Turnley: Write software to allow computers to communication with measuring instruments used in experiments designed to manipulate materials on the atomic scale.

Using the atomic force microscope for lithography

Desiree Batth: Developing methods of making electronic circuits using an atomic force microscope to manipulate matter on the atomic scale.

Lithography for electrical measurements

Darius Sanders: Developing methods of using beams of electrons to make circuits to do electrical measurements on carbon nanotubes.


Neural models

Courtney Pinard: With the goal of establishing an attentional model for neural competition, used the NEURON simulation environment to compare spike times by looking at synaptic strength, heterogeneity (intrinsic differences between neurons), noise, initial voltage displacement, and the amplitude of the depolarizing current. Differences in inhibatory and excitatiory cells were also included.

Magnets for biophysical manipulations

Deborah Sill: Building electromagnet poles pieces to be used in a new microscope that, will be able to manipulate a magnetic bead inside living tissue.

Control algorithms for biophysical manipulations

Benjamin Wilde: Developing computer control algorithms for the magnetic bead microscope mentioned above.


Louise Jawerth: Creating patterned coatings of biological material for the study of the tiny conveyor belts that are the transport mechanism within living cells.

Biomotor motion

Katy Liu: Analysis of the ability of the biological conveyor belts to move along surfaces.

Nuclear physics

Magnetic field rotation for spin-polarized scattering

Scott Buscemi: Construction and interfacing of a circuit to rotate the direction of a magnetic field over the target cell for a scattering experiment at TUNL. During the experiment the target cell is filled with polarized 3He gas, and the circuit allows the spin quantization axis of the gas to be changed during the experiment.

An eikonal treatment of m-neutrino scattering

Sterling Garmon: The goal of the project was to better understand neutrinos, which are ghost-like particles, the properties of which are not completely known. Figuring them out will help us understand the beginnings of our universe.

Low-energy nuclear astrophysics

Scott Seagroves: Finding ways of analyzing data from accelerator experiments in nuclear astrophysics. Experiments that are useful for astrophysics require very low-energy beams, which in turn make data come in at a very slow rate. The project attempted to improve the way these data are handled so that experiments could be run at even lower beam energies.

Software for controlling gas-jet targets

David W. Schieber: At the Triangle Universities Nuclear Laboratory (TUNL), This project involved the design of software for controlling a gas-jet target . The gas-jet target is used in exeriments with intense beams of polarized protons and neutrons, the object of which is to learn about forces in atomic nuclei that depend on the positions of 3 protons or neutron simultaneously. The gas-jet is in many ways superior to standard solid targets, and provides information that preexisting equipment could not.


Stellar radial velocities

Binaca James: Organization of a large database of stellar radial velocities preparatory to analyzing them to help understand the dynamics of the Galaxy’s “thick disk” stellar population.


Shane Broghan: Literature review of detailed stellar abundances to learn if “s-process” and “r-process” nucleosynthesis abundance patterns correlate with stars’ motion in our Galaxy.

Lithium abuncance

Dave Mochsler: Travelled to Kitt Peak to help obtain high-resolution, high-S/N spectra of a sample of stars that are best suited to determine the lithium abundance created in the Big Bang.

Library of Stellar Spectra

As an example of a recent on-campus experience, Jim Rose worked with 3 undergarduate students in the summer of 2002. The main emphasis of the work was to learn how to use the Morehead Observatory 24-inch telescope on campus, and in both the imaging and spectroscopy modes, in preparation for an October 2002 observing run at the Kitt Peak National Observatory, near Tucson, Arizona. In that observing run, the students will help complete a long-term project to develop a comprehensive database of stellar spectra, to be used to model the evolution of galaxies. During the summer, while the students were training on the Morehead Observatory telescope, they also particpated in a program, led by Dan Reichart to obtain optical follow-up to gamma ray bursts, the most energetic known events in the universe.

In the fall of 2004, Professors Cecil and Christiansen will take a dozen undergraduates to Chile to work with the SOAR Telescope (link needed) at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory as part of a Burch Field Research Seminar program.

Volume-phase holographic gratings

Scott Seagroves: This project is aimed at determining how well new observing technology specifically the `Volume-Phase Holographic Grating’- will work in the SOAR observatory (the new 4-meter SOAR telescope that UNC, Michigan State, and Brazil are constructing in Chile.)

Marine and atmospheric sciences

Marine sciences research

Catherine Edwards: Two projects: first, an investigation of El Nino in the Southern California Bight and the phenomenon of ‘coastally trapped wind reversals’ off the coast of California. This project involved the collection of data using small aircraft. Second, a study of tides in the complex system of inlets, bays, estuaries, and continental shelf water of the North Carolina coastline. This project used 3-dimensional finite element models of the shallow water equations to simulate the tidal fronts.

Atmospheric physics

Cara Cartwright: Global warming has become an important and contentious issue recently, and this project looked at the problem from a skeptic’s perspective. ‘Experimental’ atmospheric physics consists mainly of numerical models. Results of a model at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton predicted increased CO2 and aerosol concentrations over 300 years. In this project, UNC’s computers were used to process results to compare how the temperatures and surface winds assumptions functioned in the model. The project enabled me to get a first hand understanding of how climate models use physical laws, what assumptions must be made to simplify the physics, and how well the predictions apply to the real world.