Faculty Research

Radio Astronomy, Dr. Chuck Higgins

Overview: MTSU has two ground-based radio telescopes that collect radio wave polarization data from Jupiter and the Sun for the study of magnetospheres, plasma environments, solar-planetary connections, and planet-satellite interactions. We compare these data with other professional radio telescopes such as the Long Wavelength Array (LWA) in Socorro, NM, and with the Junospacecraft mission at Jupiter. To study Earth’s ionosphere, MTSU will collect radio astronomy data during upcoming solar eclipses.We are part of a NASA-affiliated education project called Radio JOVE that focuses on science education and outreach.

Activities:  Radio telescope operation; collection, reduction, and analysis of Jupiter and solar radio wave polarization data.

Education and Public Outreach programs. 

Minimum student background:  Completed 1-year of general physics

Exoplanets, Dr. Eric Klumpe

Overview:  The Kepler spacecraft is space observatory designed to search for indirect evidence of planets that are orbiting other stars. Data (light curves) are downloaded from a Kepler archive and the research goal is to determine the orbital characteristics of the exoplanets on the basis of those light curves.

Activities:  Curve fitting, Fourier analysis, orbital mechanics, MATLAB programming.

Minimum student background: Enrolled in Modern Physics

Eclipsing Binary Stars, Dr. Eric Klumpe

Overview:  Utilize the MTSU-Observatory/CCD-camera to obtain light-curve data from known eclipsing binary stars.

Activities:  Identify potential candidate stars, telescope operations, CCD imaging, CCD data reduction

Minimum student background: Enrolled in Modern Physics

Astrodynamics, Dr. Eric Klumpe

Overview:  Design a symplectic integrator to find solutions for a variety of astrodynamical problems.

Activities:  Symplectic integrators, computer programming

Minimum student background: Enrolled in Modern Physics, some programming experience

Laser Tweezers, Dr. Daniel Erenso 

Overview:  Laser tweezers can conveniently grab and move particles whose dimensions range from tens of nanometers to tens of microns. This novel optical-tweezer nano-manipulation capability, combined with high-resolution imaging and digital image analysis, has created a new and powerful class of experimental techniques for probing the structure, mechanical deformation properties, and interactions of biological systems at cellular and molecular levels.

Activities: Application of tweezers to red blood cells and cancer cells, data acquisition with laser tweezers, image analysis, theoretical modeling

Minimum student background: Enrolled in Modern Physics

Quantum Entanglement, Dr. Daniel Erenso 

Overview:  Quantum mechanics predicts some odd but very useful behavior in particles on the picometer scale. Entanglement is one of these odd features of quantum mechanics that can lend itself to uses in the field of information technology. Indeed, quantum information processing is the next step in the technological advancement of mankind. We create entangled photons using type I spontaneous parametric down-conversion in a beta barium borate crystal and detect them.

Activities: Theoretical analysis of quantum entanglement, experimental optics, data acquisition and analysis

Minimum student background: Completed Theoretical Physics 

The Nanophysics Research Group, Dr. Suman Neupane  http://www.mtsu.edu/faculty/sneupane/index.php

Overview:  Focus on synthesis and characterization of applied nanomaterials including carbon nanotubes, graphene, metal oxides, and topological insulators. The goal is to explore the nanoscale electronic transport properties at various temperatures in order to understand how these materials behave at reduced dimension. Applications include energy generation and storage, as well as bio-sensors and chemical sensors for fast detection of trace elements. We also plan to investigate applications of these nanomaterials in medicine for targeted drug delivery to help reduce drug side effects.

Activities: Chemical vapor deposition, hydrothermal synthesis, thin film deposition, photolithography, electron microscopy, device fabrication and testing.

Minimum student background: Motivated students at all levels are welcomed.

Optical Biosensor, Dr. William Robertson

Overview: Continuing work on research and development of a biosensor technology based on optical waves in multilayer structures. This unique patented sensing method was initially pioneered at MTSU.

Activities: Applying various sensor configurations to develop biological and chemical sensors. New applications in photonic and non-linear optical enhancement phenomena.

Minimum student background: Enrolled in Modern Physics. Knowledge and/or interest in biology/chemistry a plus. 

Acoustics, Dr. William Robertson

Overview: Computer simulations and experiments in acoustic band gap and acoustic metamaterials.

Activities: Experimental acoustic measurements using the impulse response technique. The experiments generally explore arrayed systems of resonators that are designed to manipulate the properties of sound wave propagation including extraordinary acoustic transmission, acoustic lensing, and realization of fast and slow acoustic group velocities. The experiments are designed and interpreted using computer simulations in MATLAB and COMSOL.

Minimum student background: Enrolled in Modern Physics. Programming experience a plus. 

Terahertz spectroscopy, Dr William Robertson

Overview: Terahertz spectroscopy measures the properties of materials in a region of the electromagnetic spectrum between the far infra-red and microwave wavelengths. The technique uses electrical pulses created and detected by photoconductive switches activated by pulses from a femtosecond laser.

Activities: Students will create samples, measure their terahertz response, and then interpret and evaluate the results using numerical Fourier analysis.

Minimum student background: Enrolled in Modern Physics. Enrollment or completion of Theoretical Physics an advantage.

Acoustic levitation, Dr. Nathanael Smith 

Overview: Acoustic levitation is the use of sound waves to levitate small objects. Ultimately, this project will lead to a levitation system that can hold water droplets up to several millimeters in diameter.

Activities: Review the relevant literature, design and build levitation systems (basic electronics and soldering skills will be learned), characterize the different designs (e.g. how much mass can be held in place?)

Minimum student background: Some programming experience would be useful, as would some electronics experience, but neither is essential. Introductory Physics I.

Measuring the mass of a soap bubble, Dr. Nathanael Smith 

Overview: Have you ever wondered how much a soap bubble weighs? Have you ever thought how you could possibly measure the mass of a soap bubble? If so, this project is for you! (If you haven’t wondered about it until now, but think the project sounds cool, this project is for you, too!)

Activities: Together we will try to figure out a way to measure the mass of a soap bubble. It’s not as easy as it sounds! You will need to become good at blowing bubbles, potentially use motion analysis software (and a super duper high-speed camera), and anything else we can think of.

Minimum student background: An interest in physics. 

Bouncing soap bubbles, Dr. Nathanael Smith 

Overview: Not long ago I was trying to freeze a soap bubble (this is something you really can do) by placing it in a cool box with dry ice. To my surprise, the bubble wouldn’t get down near the dry ice. It kept bouncing off the cool, dense layer of air that formed over the dry ice. This project will explore the dynamics of the bouncing soap bubble as it moves and bounces through air with a strong temperature gradient.

Activities: This project will involve both computational and practical components. The dynamics of a bouncing bubble will be modeled using basic mechanics using either Matlab or Python. From the model, we should be able to predict the amplitude and frequency of the bouncing bubble. We will also experimentally measure the motion of a bouncing bubble, and use video motion analysis to compare experimental results with those of our model.

Minimum student background: Some programming experience would be useful, but is not essential. Introductory Physics I.

Dynamics of liquid films during spin-coating, Dr. Nathanael Smith 

Overview: Spin coating is a technique used to form thin films (typically a few microns to a few tens of microns) on solid substrates. We will use an optical interference technique to monitor the thickness of a liquid film while it thins. Experimental results will be compared to theoretical predictions.

Activities: Set up and optimize the optical interference experiment. Measure the film thickness concurrently in two different locations during the spin coating process. Model the film thickness using Matlab or Python.

Minimum student background: Some programming experience would be useful, but is not essential. Modern Physics I.

Numerical studies of disordered and strongly correlated electron systems, Dr. Hanna Terletska

Dr. Terletska's webpage click here

Overview: In many novel materials the motion of electrons is very correlated due to strong electron-electron interactions or disorder.  As a result in such systems the various exotic phases of matter and complex phenomena emerge. This includes electron localization, metal-insulator transitions, superconductivity, and quantum magnetism. Despite pure scientific interest, such strongly correlated electron materials are also technologically promising with potential application in energy transmission, energy storage and electronic technology. Theoretical description of such systems presents one of the main challenges of the modern Condensed Matter Physics. With increasing computing power, numerical analysis has now become a central tool in the analysis of the different phases arising in materials in condensed matter physics. Our primary focus is the use of various numerical methods to calculate the properties of electrons (correlation effects, spectral functions) and phase transitions in such materials. 

Activities: Use of various numerical and theoretical techniques; computer programing; data analysis and visualization. 

Minimum student background: Enrolled in Modern Physics, some programming experience.

Galaxy Dynamics, Dr. John Wallin

Overview: Galaxy collisions and mergers play a critical role in galactic evolution. During these interactions, high rates of star formation can be triggered with in the disks of the galaxies. However, at its most basic level, these collisions can be modeled using Newton’s equations of motion. Using computer simulations, it is possible to build numerical models of these collisions that can be compared to observations of interacting galaxies. 

Activities: Use and develop program to simulate and analyze n-body simulations of interacting galaxies and compare these results with the data in on-line astronomical databases.

Minimum student background: Students should be familiar with Linux and Python programming at least at the level of CSCI 1170. Students should also have completed Theoretical Physics I or E&M I. Interest in astronomy is a plus.

Computer Vision and Sensors, Dr. John Wallin

Overview: Basic computer vision algorithms can be used to track dynamical systems. The availability of low cost microcontrollers and sensors also makes it possible to measure acceleration and orientation physical systems. The Maker lab in the physics department allows us to develop sensors and interfaces to conduct complex experiments in classical mechanics using digital sensors. 

Activities: Use the Raspberry Pi and Arduino microcontroller to use sensors to measure physical properties of dynamical systems. The collected data will be compared to the analytic and numerical calculations.  

Minimum student background: Students should have some background in programming in C and Python and experience with the Linux operating system. Theoretical physics and Electronics would be a plus.