Undergraduate Student Research Opportunities


General Area of Research: Topics in General Relativity

Research Supervisor: Ted Jacobson, Professor, Physics

Minimum Background Requirements: Some knowledge of general relativity; very strong math skills

Time Frame: Inquire with Research Supervisor

Specific Research Projects:

Paid Position: Possible


General Area of Research: The Astronomy Workshop: Incorporating Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology

Research Supervisor: Alberto Bolatto, Professor, Astronomy

Minimum Background Requirements: Programming in Matlab and Java. Some HTML experience and a modicum of aesthetic sense. Background in Astronomy and/or Physics is desirable.

Time Frame: Can start ASAP. Up to 20 hours per week.

Specific Research Projects: Together with Prof. Douglas Hamilton, we will work on the expansion of the Astronomy Workshop suite of tools to include extragalactic and cosmology-related examples. The Astronomy Workshop illustrates astronomy problems and applications for undergraduates. We also plan to expand it to high school level students. Some ideas of tools to develop are:

  • An illustration of Olbers' paradox: why is the sky dark at night, and what are the implications of this observation?
  • An exploration of the meaning of Hubble's law: why does uniform expansion mean that farther galaxies must recede fastest?
  • Make your own universe: what are the consequences of varying the cosmological parameters on cosmic evolution?
  • The appearance of the universe: what are the effects of cosmological dimming and wavelength shifting on galaxies?
  • Observing the gaseous universe: illustrating the Doppler effect, line profiles, and the appearance of HI emission for combinations of cold clouds, warm clouds, and continuum sources along the line of sight
  • Measuring the mass of a galaxy: putting together a galaxy from combinations of different mass components and geometry, obtaining the observed galaxy velocity field in the sky (i.e., the spider diagram), and comparing it to actual observations

Paid Position: Yes


General Area of Research: Observational and Theoretical Topics in High-Energy Astrophysics

Research Supervisor: Chris Reynolds, Professor, Astronomy

Minimum Background Requirements: Basic knowledge of physics and astrophysics (at ASTR120/121; PHYS273 or PHYS270 and PHYS271). Strong computing skills (basic knowledge of UNIX, some programming experience preferred).

Time Frame: Start immediately

Specific Research Projects:

  • Observational investigations of accreting supermassive black holes : Project involves the reduction and analysis of data from currently operating (space-based) X-ray telescopes in order to explore the properties of accreting supermassive black holes. Through the use of X-ray spectra as well as X-ray variability, you will investigate the immediate surroundings of these black holes and attempt to search for strong-gravity effects (including those that can be used to determine the black hole spin). Project requires the use of pre-developed sophisticated data analysis and an extensive application of statistics.
  • Development of visualization tools for multi-dimensional computer simulations of astrophysical fluid flows : Project involves the development of new software tools to permit the visualization and hence interpretation/analysis of recent computer simulations of astrophysical gas flows. Project requires very strong computing skills, including proficiency in scripting languages.

Paid Position: Not at the present time


General Area of Research: Cosmology and Galaxy Formation

Research Supervisor: Massimo Ricotti, Associate Professor, Astronomy

Minimum Background Requirements: Some programming and data plotting experience

Time Frame: Contact Research Supervisor

Specific Research Projects: Dark matter decay of annihilation effects on cosmic ionization and heating or other shorter projects.

Paid Position: Contact Research Supervisor


General Area of Research: Theoretical Topics in Black Hole Astrophysics

Research supervisor: Jeremy Schnittman, Astrophysicist, NASA

Minimum Background Requirements: Multibariable calculus and differential equations. Moderate skills in at least one computer programming language.

Time Frame:  Contact Research Supervisor

Specific Research Projects:

  • "X-ray Polarization from the Moon" -- In 2014, a new space telescope called GEMS will be launched by NASA that can detect the polarization of X-rays from various astronomical sources. The moon is known to emit X-rays with energies of ~0.5-2 keV, which should be observable with this new mission. At different
    energies, the source of the X-rays is different: at 0.5keV, they come from Thompson scattering of solar thermal X-rays, expected to be nearly 100% polarized. At 1-2 keV, the flux is more likely from Si and Al flourescent lines, and should be unpolarized. We will construct detailed models of the X-ray polarization from the moon, and simulate what it may look like to the new space telescope.
  • "Binary Black Holes and the 3-body Problem" -- In a recent paper (http://arxiv.org/abs/1006.0182) I proposed that stars might get trapped in stable orbits in binary black hole systems and then co-evolve with the black holes until they all merge in a spectacular burst of gravitational waves and X-rays. This problem is very rich and has multiple open avenues to pursue. One is the improvement of the accuracy of the calculation by including the "Post Newtonian" equations of motion, an approximation to general relativity. We would investigate how the system evolves under these new methods and what effects that may have on the original conclusions.
  • "Binary Black Hole Resonance: Spin-orbit and Newtonian" -- Another direction to take the 3-body black hole problem, where we investigate the effects of various resonances on the dynamics of the system. This is quite similar to the behavior of many asteroids and moons in the solar system.
  • "GWASER: Gravitational Wave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of (gravitational) Radiation" -- This is a more pedagogical project with few astrophysical applications, but with the promise of providing interesting insights into the nature of gravitational waves (GWs). It could involve at least two different, largely hypothetical, applications of coherent GW transmitters where a large number of individual GW sources are combined in phase to produce a strongly collimated beam of coherent GWs, much like a laser. The other application of be that of a GW emitter-detector array, where a whole array of sources combine to focus many minute signals onto a single central detector that could be tuned to different GW frequencies.

Paid Position:  Not at the present time