Research Experiences for Undergraduates
Students can choose a research experience from the areas of astrophysics, biophysics, gravitational wave detection, lasers and photonics, nano-science and advanced materials or radio, optical astronomy and applied physics.
Participants will receive a stipend of $5,000, travel support up to $600, and room and board. *
Students: May 31 - August 7, 2015
Teachers: June 9 - August 14, 2015
The University of Texas at Brownsville. Some of the projects will also require that work be carried out at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) in Hanford, Washington.
The University of Texas at Brownsville Physics and Astronomy REU Application
For High School Teachers:
The University of Texas at Brownsville Physics and Astronomy RET Application
Title: Compact Object Binaries
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Matthew Benacquista
Students and teachers will work on projects related to modeling or observing binaries containing two
compact objects (black holes, neutron stars, or white dwarfs). Modeling projects may include running
population synthesis or dynamical evolution codes. These projects may also involve data mining the
results of these codes to identify specific evolutionary channels or population characteristics. Observing
projects may include image processing and searching for variability in light curves.
Gravitational Wave Detection
Title: A Comprehensive Approach to Gravitational Wave Data Analysis
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joey Shapiro Key
The LIGO BayesWave algorithm is capable of fitting the non-stationary LIGO noise, identifying glitch
events, and calculating the Bayes factor, or odds ratio, for the identification of a marginal gravitational
wave signal. Participants will have the opportunity to use BayesWave techniques to study simulated
LIGO data in this comprehensive approach. Parameter estimation techniques using Markov Chain Monte
Carlo (MCMC) machinery will be used to determine LIGO noise characteristics and the parameters of
glitches in the data. The participants will then search data with injected burst sources of gravitational
waves to demonstrate the detection capability of the BayesWave algorithm.
Title: Real Time Triangulation of Large Electromagnetic Transient Events Around a Gravitational Wave Observatory
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Cristina Torres
A gravitational wave detector is a complex electro-optical system. LIGO-type detectors are kilometer
scale Fabry-Perot interferometers which rely on components like the steering optics to detect GW signals.
A GW detector’s steering optics and other similar components use either controlled magnetic fields or
electric fields as their primary control and actuation mechanisms. Large external electromagnetic (EM) transients like
lightning strikes can impart small but observable impulses onto the GW detector’s control system. These impulses can
cause a false GW signature to be detected. Triangulating the presence,magnitude and
location of strong EM transients is important to reducing the number of false positive GW candidates
detected. The goal of this project is to use a collection of on-site 3-axis magnetometers in a coherent manner
to detect and triangulate, in real time, the locations of EM transients which could be affecting the
performance of the GW detector.
Title: Particle Swarm Optimization for Maximum Likelihood Estimation
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Soumya Mohanty
Students will apply programming and mathematical skills to a novel method for the analysis of
gravitational wave data. Particle Swarm Optimization (PSO) is a method which is gaining in popularity
in several diverse fields, and its first application to GW data analysis shows a lot of promise: “Particle
swarm optimization and gravitational wave data analysis: Performance on a binary inspiral testbed”, W.
Yang and Soumya D. Mohanty, Phys. Rev. D 81 063002 (2010)]. This method basically involves the
use of a user specified set of "agents" that move over the parameter space following some simple set
of rules which includes rules governing inter-agent communication. For this research, participants will
learn about PSO and develop new ideas about improving the performance of PSO in the specific case
of matched filtering for binary inspiral searches. This project is quite feasible for undergraduate students
and teachers having a good background in programming and it can easily lead to publishable results.
Two fourth year undergraduates, one from Nanjing University, China, and one from the Indian Institute of
Science Education and Research (IISER), Kolkata, India, and one third year undergraduate from IISER
have already worked on PSO.
Title: Characterization of background noise in LIGO
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Soma Mukherjee
One of the major areas of research in LIGO is called Detector Characterization. This involves looking and characterizing the real data coming out of the LIGO detectors both in real time, as well as off-line. Noise analysis provides feedback to the experimentalists so that the instrument can be diagnosed for spurious behavior. This provides a great platform for under-graduate students to learn both about the detector physics as well as about the data analysis techniques. Students will look for correlations using methods from information theory like mutual information to detect interdependency between time series from different detector channels. Specifically students will learn about LIGO data, methods of storage and extraction of LIGO data, MATLAB as a data analysis tool, methods of statistical data analysis and methods of looking at glitches seen in the data for understanding their possible origin in the detector sub- systems.
Title: Engineering an artificially intelligent knowledge base system to boost scientific creativity in diagnosing kilometer scale gravitational wave detectors: A pilot study.
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Cristina Valeria Torres
The LIGO Scientific community is a large community of researchers, this community has the ambitions goal of detecting gravitational radiation, perturbations of space-time. In order to make these detections complex kilometer scale instruments have been constructed around the world. Understanding the behavior of these instruments is critical to ensuring that they run in an optimal fashion. The goal of this particular project is to use artificial intelligence algorithms and "natural" computer to human interfaces that allow the leveraging of instrumental expert knowledge digested into a semi artificially intelligent system. This project, the total electronic information repository (TERI), will be a novel application of digitized expertise (knowledge bases engineering) along with existing large scale homogeneous data. Our goal is to allow researchers to pose more scientifically interesting instrument questions without the burden of traditional human computer interactions. This project will involve the creation of a specialized knowledge engine. Our goal is to create a pilot study to show the usefulness of TERI as an instrument scientists digital assistant. This project is expected to unleash the creativity of instrument
Lasers and Photonics
Title: Laser Communication for Space Missions
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Volker Quetschke
Mini satellites, aka CubeSats, are becoming more and more interesting to perform research projects in
space. These satellites are reasonably priced and can be launched from NASA or SpaceX rockets as
part of university research projects. One major problem is the communication with CubeSats because
their small size prohibits the use of large solar panels and therefore limits the available power. The
power limitation directly limits the RF communication abilities of those satellites with ground stations.
The current research at UTB includes practical aspects of laser communication. Laser communication
is strongly directional and therefore limits the required power consumption. As part of this project REU
students or RET teachers can be involved in multiple stages, from controlling the direction of the laser
beam to setting up a realistic testbed for small angular changes of the incoming beam on the satellite
beam and the effect on transmission efficiency.
Radio and Optical Astronomy
Title: Optical Followup of Gravitational Wave Triggers
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Mario Diaz
My interest is in the optical detection of electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational wave events,
mainly the collisions of neutron star- neutron star or neutron star-black hole. Another area is the
search and identification of high energy optical transients and optical follow up of Gamma ray bursts.
My group works with a telescope that UTB-CGWA has in the Macón mountain range in northwestern Argentina
in the high plateau of the Atacama dessert. The project is called TOROS and it is described in http://toros.phys.utb.edu
Title: Single Molecule Biophysics Lab
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Ahmed Touhami
We are interested in developing and applying new technologies for detecting, tracking, and manipulating
single molecules in living cells. In particular we are combining optical trapping (OT) and single molecule
fluorescence (SMF) with real-time observations of the dynamic behavior of single proteins, to determine
the mechanisms of action at the level of an individual molecule, and to explore heterogeneity among
different molecules within a population. This highly multidisciplinary project provides numerous research
and training opportunities for undergraduate students and teachers to work at the interface of physics,
chemistry, biology, and nanotechnology. Specific projects for participants include membrane protein
dynamics, the investigation of bacterial cell division dynamics at the single molecule level, and mechanics
of biological filaments, the exploration of the dynamics and mechanics of bacterial pili filaments using
OT and SMF. In the latter project the aims are to understand: How these soft nanomachines move, bind,
and unbind, how their mechanical properties are affected by changing physiological and environmental
conditions, and how the bacteria manipulate them to penetrate mammalian host cells. A third project
concerns folding and aggregation of proteins. Participants will learn how to measure forces holding the
protein complex by pulling the complex apart using dual-optical trapping technique in order to investigate
protein misfolding time scales, dynamics, and misfolded states.
Nano-science and Advanced Materials
Title: Superlattice structures for sustainable thermal energy harvesting
Faculty Mentor: Dr. Karen Martirosyan
Thermoelectric (TE) materials that generate electricity from waste heat sources are an ideal solution to the search for sustainable energy. The ZT of a thermoelectric material is a dimensionless unit that is used to compare the efficiencies of various materials. We propose to increase ZT value of TE materials by assembling low-dimensional geometries combining single wall carbon nanotubes with layered perovskites to form superlattice periodical structures. The superlattice structures will assist to enhance the thermal phonon scattering and increasing electron mobility, which improves TE efficiency. We plan to fabricate several nanostructured complexes by using methods that we recently developed. The proposed research includes the following basic tasks: (i) identifying the stable superlattice structures for TE materials with high figures of merit ZT; (ii) producing p-type and n-type of TE matrix nanocomposites; (iii) self- assembling fabrication and testing of TE devices suitable for small-scale power system for energy harvesting. The students will be exposed to the advanced nanostructured technology development.