Ongoing Student Research Opportunities

Taking data through the wrong end of TU’s new telescope with colleagues Tom Krause (middle) and Alex Storrs (2012).
Taking data through the wrong end of TU’s new 0.4m telescope with colleagues Tom Krause (middle) and Alex Storrs (2012).

For potential new students! I have openings for possible research projects in the following areas:

  • Experimental measurements of fundamental constants. I have worked with three students (Jon Perry, Calin Reamy and Carmen Cuestas) to measure the speed of light using a laser and beam-splitter, and a fourth student (Hannah Clark) is measuring c using telescopic observations of Jupiter’s moon Io. I am looking for another student or two to measure Newton’s gravitational constant G and Coulomb’s constant k (or equivalently the electric permittivity of free space ε0) using torsion balances. This project would be an ideal summer project for somebody who is interested in theoretical physics and good at careful, patient experimental work.
  • Flywheel energy storage. The world needs new ways to store, as well as produce energy. One possible solution is the flywheel battery, which stores energy in the form of rotational kinetic energy! These can be spun up when there is surplus energy available (e.g., from solar panels during the day), and the energy can then be extracted when needed (e.g., at night), slowing the flywheel back down. This project will have two components: construction of a small-scale demonstration prototype (where energy is passed back and forth between a small flywheel and a capacitor) and a field trip to a 20 MW flywheel energy storage facility operated by Convergent in Hazle, PA (2.5 hours from Towson). This project will be ideal for a practically inclined student with a desire to help save the world through physics.
  • Magnetic perpetual motion debunker. In teaching introductory electromagnetism, I have been fascinated by the long history of pseudo-scientific perpetual-motion machines, especially those based on the apparently “free” work done by magnetic fields. But while they make for great discussion, it would be so much better to try and actually build one and demonstrate exactly why they cannot work! The particular example I have in mind is the Taisnerius engine, named after the Jesuit priest Jean Taisner, who wrote about it in 1572. (He actually stole it from Petrus Peregrinus de Maricourt, who wrote the first quasi-scientific book on magnetism … in 1269!) This project requires an experimentally inclined student who has passed PHYS 242 (calculus-based Introductory Physics II).
  • Limits on higher-dimensional dark matter from gamma-ray background radiation. Working with previous student Jack Mitcham, I have calculated that candidates for dark matter within certain higher-dimensional “braneworld scenarios” can be ruled out because they produce excessive amounts of gamma-ray background radiation. These results depended on a rough approximation and were never published. The project is to improve the model and present or publish the results. It would suit a student who has taken PHYS 307 (Mathematical Physics), has an interest in relativity and cosmology, and is comfortable with (or willing to learn) Mathematica and LaTeX.
  • Testing a symbolic code to solve Einstein’s equations in higher dimensions. Building on work with previous student Ryan Everett, I have developed a suite of symbolic Mathematica routines that can solve Einstein’s field equations of General Relativity in arbitrary dimensions and characterize the results in various ways. I am particularly interested in applying this code to a theory known as Space-Time-Matter, in which matter and energy in the four-dimensional Universe are “induced” from pure geometry in higher dimensions. The project is to test the code using known solutions, and then apply it to a new wavelike solution to see whether it has physically acceptable properties. This is a challenging project for a student who has taken, or is planning to take PHYS 411 (General Relativity and Cosmology), is interested in the philosophical side of physics, and is comfortable with Mathematica.

If you are interested in pursuing any of these opportunities, or if you have some other project idea that you’d like to discuss, feel free to contact me directly.