• Student in Science Lab

    Physics Research

    There are two major ways students do research in our department. The first is in our required curriculum, through courses like Modern Physics Lab and the year-long Advanced Lab. The second is in directed collaboration with faculty members, often in the summer. For the latter we have generous alumni who support students with stipends along with free housing on campus. Below are typical research projects in both the curricular and collaborative models, along with statements about the research interests of our faculty.

    Curricular Projects

    • Modernization of famous experiments including full computer control and automated data analysis
      - The Michelson/Morley experiment disproving the luminiferous ether
      - The Franck/Hertz experiment showing the quantum states of electrons in atoms
      - The Photoelectric effect proving the existence of photons
    • Measuring and modeling chaos in coupled rotary pendula
    • Physics of tennis racquets
    • Measuring the race between the tip of a chain and a ball falling from rest (the chain wins!)
    • Potato cannons and vacuum guns: which one is faster?
    • Falling chimneys: where and why do the bricks crack?
    • Billiard physics
    • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) People, Prosperity and the Planet (P3) student design competition and associated research areas:
      - Air quality
      - Safe and sustainable water resources
      - Sustainable and healthy communities

    Collaborations

    Dr. Jerry Artz's group: We continue our work in medical physics, collaborating with our "Rate-Fast" physician-based team in California. Specifically, we continue to develop "Whole Person Impairment" (WPI) ratings for workers who have undergone a work-related injury. We are currently developing the "whole package," which includes proprietary algorithms for "recovery management" from injury to maximum medical improvement (MMI) status. Once MMI is achieved, the individual is eligible for a WPI evaluation and an insurance company settlement. This is a part of a continuing attempt to penetrate, correct, and perhaps dominate a medical-impairment rating system that currently is wrought with inconsistencies, errors, litigation delays, and frustration involving both patients and insurance companies. This is a highly practical experience for our students who are interested in medical physics and/or statistical analysis. Specifically, this past summer, undergraduate research included:

    • Verifying the Accuracy and Precision of the RateFast Goniometer App
    • The Application of Elastic Material to Standardize Strength Testing for Telemedicine

    Dr. Bruce Bolon’s group: We investigate properties of thin films of magnetic materials to determine their potential for use in magnetic recording devices such as hard drives and flash drives. The research falls under the category of spintronics where, with regards to electron transport, not only the charge of the electron is relevant, but also its intrinsic spin. Students have participated in:

    • the set up of a magnetometry apparatus useful in studying relevant magnetic properties of thin films
    • using GIXR (grazing incidence x-ray reflectivity) equipment at UMN's Characterization Facility in order to obtain diffraction data that the students then analyzed to determine film thicknesses

    Dr. Lifeng Dong's group: We design, synthesize/fabricate, and characterize nanoscale materials and devices for energy conversion and storage as well as water purification and desalination. 

    • Machine learning to explore new materials for solar cells and electrocatalysts for metal - air batteries.
    • Improving methods of synthesizing nanoscale multifunctional materials with desirable electrical, optical, magnetic, chemical, and biological properties.
    • Fabrication and electrical characterization of energy conversion and storage devices: solar cells, supercapacitors, lithium batteries, zinc-air batteries, biosensors, chemical sensors, and fuel cells.

    Dr. Ben Gold's group: We use Hamline's telescopes and an actively cooled, computer-controlled digital camera to study planets and stars from the roof of Robbins Science Center. Projects include:

    • Detecting planets around other stars using transit differential photometry
    • Developing software to automate the analysis of phtographs
    • Characterizing noise sources for the telescope and engineering improved mounting solutions for better stability

    Dr. Andy Rundquist’s group: We study the generation, characterization, and optimization of ultrashort laser-matter interactions. Spin-offs include using genetic programming and artificial neural networks to solve complicated problems ranging from guitar tuning to non-harmonic periodic motion. Students also work with Andy to further develop the Piper Physics Patrol, a physics show we bring to elementary, middle, and high schools around the area.

    • Development of a gauss rifle and shooting a monkey out of a tree, Piper Physics Patrol gone bananas
    • Characterization of prism tilt in a Ti:Sapphire laser cavity
    • Using a neural network to give vision to a robot
    • Using a genetic algorithm to optimize the excitation of a nonlinear oscillator
    • Exploration of nonlinear resonance in heliocosiers (rotated beaded chains)
    • Exploration of harmonic drum heads using 3D printing, computational simulation, genetic algorithms, and artificial intelligence.
    • Exploration of sound localization.

    Physics Internships

    Our students have performed internships at several of the leading scientific and technical companies in the area, including 3M, Honeywell, Image Sensing Systems, Medtronic, Seagate, and Toro. Students have also been accepted into a Research Experience for Undergraduates program at many prestigious research universities around the country.