• Student in Science Lab

    Physics Research

    There are two major ways students do research in our department. The first is in our required curriculum 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


    Professor 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

    Professor 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