Research Experience for Undergraduates

The department has created an 8-10 weeks Undergraduate Summer Research program explicitly for the UCLA Physics and Astronomy department students to be held June 17 to August 23, 2019.  Faculty will define a number of available research projects. 

Interested students should download, fill out, and print out this application providing their project preferences. Application deadline is March 8, 2019.

In addition to the printed application, you will also need to provide:

  • A one-page statement -- a little bit about yourself and your academic and research goals, your motivations, and your interest in doing physics/astronomy research.  You can also optionally provide reasons for your research preferences below.
  • Your unofficial transcript.
  • A resume/CV that includes coursework, lab skills, and coding proficiencies.
  • A letter of recommendation (sent separately to from a faculty advisor.


Accelerator Physics
Faculty: Pietro Musumeci and James Rosenzweig

Project: TBD

Faculty: Eric Hudson

Project: The student will work on cooling molecular ion qubits for quantum computing.

Faculty: Tuan Do

The Galactic Center group strives to understand the black hole at the center of our galaxy and the stellar populations surrounding it. This summer we are offering 2 research opportunities for undergraduates. The selected students will be working with either ground-based (Keck Telescope) or space-based (Hubble Space Telescope) observations of the Galactic Center region. Possible projects include:

  • Examining stellar variability in an effort to better understand the nature of the stars in close proximity to the supermassive black hole
  • Characterizing the observational completeness of the HST data so we can measure the rate at which stars are being ejected from the black hole region
  • Measuring the absolute motion of the Arches star cluster relative to the supermassive black hole, in order to understand its orbit and birth environment

Faculty: Tommaso Treu

Project: Gravitational lenses are fascinating objects with a multitude of astrophysical applications, to name a few: measuring the expansion rate of the Universe, quantifying the amount and nature of dark matter in galaxies etc. It requires expert modeling to extract the scientific information from the telescope-image of a lens system, which involves judiciously assigning several light profiles to different components seen in the image. This project aims to apply machine learning technique(s) to identify these components and assign appropriate light profiles to them. During the project, the student will learn about the theory and applications of gravitational lensing at an appropriate level and gain experience using
state-of-the-art lens-modeling and machine-learning softwares. The selected student is required to be able to write programs in Python by the project start date.

Faculty: Ben Zuckerman/Beth Klein

What are exoplanets made of?  Is Earth "normal"?  To address these questions, we are utilizing a powerful cosmic laboratory: polluted white dwarf stars. Astronomical spectra of polluted white dwarfs provide the opportunity to perform high sensitivity measurements of the elemental compositions of rocky exoplanets with a level of detail and precision not accessible with any other exoplanet observing technique. These measurements give us insight into the chemical nature of rocky exoplanets, processes of planetary differentiation, evolution, and even plate tectonics, as well as the prevalence of water in other star systems. The student will carry out data reduction and/or analysis of optical spectra coming from Keck or Lick Observatories. This project involves learning to use existing astronomy software packages to process CCD data, extract and calibrate spectra, and analyze those spectra in order to search for chemical elements that come from planetary bodies which once orbited the star.

Condensed Matter
Faculty: Ni NI

Project: Searching for quantum spin liquid state in materials with layered honeycomb lattice. Magnetic frustration has played an important role in materials with triangular, Kagome, pyrochlore and honeycomb lattices. Kitaev model describes a layered spin-1/2 honeycomb lattice with bond-dependent in-plane anisotropic coupling. In such a system, exotic emergent phenomena, such as quantum spin liquid state, majorana fermions have been proposed. In the summer term, Harlan will synthesize and characterize rare earth compounds with honeycomb lattice to search for possible quantum spin liquid state.

Experimental Particle Physics
Faculty: Jay Hauser

Project: Exploring the energy frontier with CMS. Selected studies: 1) WH production followed by Higgs decays to pairs of long-lived particles X0 X0: investigate cases when X0 decays to photons or quark jets. 2) Study patterns of hits in muon chambers to increase spatial resolution of the trigger. Test the improved patterns by studying cosmic ray muon data taken at CERN. 3) Baryon number violation with sphalerons. Investigate improvements to the analysis by targeting specific transition channels, and investigate the effects of adding high multiplicity of W and Z bosons. 4) Develop new triggers to collect events with slow particles using muon detectors.


Low Temperature Physics
Faculty: Gary Williams

Project: The project would be in low temperature physics studying the properties of superfluid helium.  We are currently building a new torsion oscillator system to study in more detail the superfluid properties of very thin helium films adsorbed on carbon nanotubes.  This should answer a number of interesting questions brought up by our previous measurements of third sound propagation in the films on nanotubes.

Faculty: Katsushi Arisaka

Project: We will investigate how our vision form the perception of external 3D space, by integrating the visual stimulation and eye motion within our brain.  We will combine Virtual Reality headset,  eye motion tracking, and brainwave detection altogether.  

Faculty: Mayank Mehta

1) Hardware+software: Developing hardware and software to measure neural signals in natural and virtual reality from live rats.  Must have some lab experience with digital electronics (e.g. microcontrollers),  and  programing in C.
2) Computation: Develop computational and theoretical techniques to decipher neural responses, and neural rhythms from the live brain of rats.  Should be proficient with either Python or Matlab (preferably Matlab), laboratory experience doing analysis of experimental data, ideally neurobiological data.
Research in our lab focuses on the rapidly emerging field of Neurophysics. The key question here is: How do large ensembles of neurons learn and remember information about the physical world? Recent advances in physics, computer science and neurobiology has put us much closer to addressing this fundamental and long standing question.  Our laboratory combines techniques from these diverse academic fields, including both experimental and theoretical approaches, to tackle this challenge.

Our recent research has focused on understanding how ensembles of neurons form a mental representation of space and time. To address this goal, we measure neural responses from freely behaving behaving rodents without causing much injury to their brain or health. To manipulate their perception of space and time we use state of the art virtual reality system for rats. We also study neural responses during sleep, which influence perception of space-time during behavior. We develop hardware and software to measure neural signals in natural and virtual reality, and we develop computational techniques to decipher the responses we measure in the laboratory and develop mathematical theories to understand the emergent neural dynamics.

Nuclear physics
Faculty: Huan Z. Huang/Gang Wang

Project: Study of Heavy Quark Interaction with QCD Matter: QCD partonic matter at extremely high temperature and energy density has been created in Au+Au collisions at Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL). We will study heavy quark (Charm and Bottom) interactions with the QCD matter in central Au+Au collisions. Heavy quarks are produced mostly through the gluon-gluon fusion process during the initial impact of the colliding nuclei. After the initial production heavy quarks may scatter off partons in the QCD matter and suffer energy losses while traversing the QCD matter via gluon radiation or elastic scattering. We will investigate experimentally signatures of these heavy quark interactions with the QCD matter.

Soft Condensed Matter
Faculty: Thomas Mason

Project: Students will analyze trajectories of probe particles and molecules in systems that exhibit both active and passive behavior for microrheology and imaging experiments. This will entail computational/theoretical work using existing experimental data sets that we have. A strong candidate would have programming experience (preference for Mathematica, Matlab, C/C++).

Theoretical/Computational Plasma Physics
Faculty: Frank Tsung/Viktor Decyk

The UCLA particle-in-cell Simulation Group has an opening for an undergraduate student this summer to extend our existing 2D and 3D particle-in-cell codes (available on GitHub) to run on modern GPU based supercomputers using OpenACC.   The goal of this project is to produce a portable particle-in-cell code that can run on a variety of future heterogeneous architectures, perform validation studies on the new code, and compare the performance of the new code against their CUDA counter-parts.   The validated codes will become a part of our GitHub repository and the results of the performance study will be published in a refereed journal.  
The student should have some programming experience (preferable in Fortran) and has taken the undergraduate plasma physics course.