Undergraduate Research Projects


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1- Characterizing collagen flexibility with atomic force microscopy

          Nancy Forde nforde@sfu.ca website
The Forde lab specializes in molecular biophysics, specifically focused on the relationship between chemical composition and mechanical properties of biological macromolecules. We utilize a range of techniques from physics, chemistry and biochemistry to manipulate and characterize these systems. This project focuses on collagen, the predominant structural protein building block of our connective tissues and extracellular matrices. In spite of its key importance to our physiology and health, and its wide use in a variety of biomaterials, fundamental questions remain unanswered regarding its structure and mechanics at the molecular level. In this project, the summer student will build on previous work in the group and image individual collagen proteins using atomic force microscopy. Through image analysis, the flexibility of collagen can be extracted using different polymer models, providing a means to interpret how its triple helical structure is influenced by its environment (temperature, solution conditions, etc.).
2- Studying Polymer Morphology

          Barbara Frisken frisken@sfu.ca website
In my research group, we are studying the morphology of ion-conducting polymers, with the long-term goal of improving material properties of polymer electrolyte membranes (PEMs) for fuel-cell applications. Good conductivity in PEMs depends on polymer morphology and ionic nanostructure; controlling this morphology is essential to the design of high-performance materials. These experiments will contribute to the fundamental understanding necessary to optimize polymer design for fuel cell applications, and ultimately aid our transition to a low-carbon society. Several projects are possible, depending on interest. Most will involve experiments using light scattering or X-ray scattering, some data analysis and modelling. For example, one project involves studies of the degradation of Nafion™, the polymer most commonly used in fuel cell applications. Changes in morphology at nanometer length scales will be monitored using a state-of-the-art small-angle X-ray scattering instrument recently installed in Simon Fraser University’s materials facility. These changes will be compared to results of simulations and chemical studies.
3- Muon Studies of Quantum Materials

          Jeff Sonier jsonier@sfu.ca website
Quantum materials are being widely explored for their novel and fascinating electronic, magnetic and optical properties that emerge from underlying exotic collective properties of electrons, and are already leading to innovative technologies and advanced applications. The use of the muon as a sensitive local probe of internal magnetic fields through a collection of techniques known as muon spin rotation/relaxation/resonance (µSR) has evolved into a powerful research tool for the study of quantum materials. This project primarily involves µSR studies of quantum materials (e.g., superconductors, topological insulators, magnetically-frustrated heavy fermion systems) at TRIUMF's Centre for Molecular and Materials Science. Between scheduled experiments, preliminary sample characterization and data analysis will be worked on at SFU.
4- Materials Synthesis and Characterization

          Eundeok Mun emun@sfu.ca website
Our group is focused on the discovery and synthesis of novel materials with unusual magnetic and electronic ground states as well as the coupling between them. We are particularly interested in, however not limited to, magnetism, superconductivity, and quantum criticality. Our research is more fundamental than applicable. Why is this important? Materials synthesis is a milestone, to a certain extent, because it provides objects to any further studies. If new compounds are synthesized, new properties could be found, leading towards new directions of research. Exploratory synthesis of materials and their characterizations contribute to building a large body of knowledge. Fundamental research and materials discovery ultimately affects the strength of industry and therefore the economy. From the earliest days of condensed matter physics to the latest 21st century initiatives, the pioneering ideas and technologies of materials physics have transformed every aspect of society. Nature has many surprises and has provided an abundance of exotic properties for researchers in structurally complex materials. The exploration of phase-spaces will reveal more unexpected phenomena. The student will synthesize a range of magnetic and electronic materials, and characterize the grown samples by means of XRD, magnetization, electrical resistivity, and specific heat measurements.
5- Nanostructures

          Karen Kavanagh kavanagh@sfu.ca website
The student will electrodeposit two-dimensional materials such as molybdenum sulfide onto semiconductor nanowires to form novel three-dimensional nanostructures. They will analyse the electrical and structural properties using scanning and transmission electron microscopy. This will be with the assistance of graduate students working on the fabrication and characterization of semiconductor materials and interfaces using various methods. Further details can be learned from our website: www.sfu.ca/kavanaghlab.
6- Energetic efficiency in molecular machines

          David Sivak dsivak@sfu.ca website
All living organisms face several fundamental physical challenges in their everyday existence. Among these are: the maintenance of order despite the propensity of everything to eventually get messy (a.k.a., the Second Law of Thermodynamics); and the performance of mechanically-demanding tasks with the incredibly jiggly materials at hand (a.k.a., proteins). My group’s theoretical and computational biophysics research focuses on determining in this context the design principles for effective operation of molecular machines (proteins that convert between different forms of energy, but are 100 million times smaller than the car engines that engineers already know how to design). More specifically: what are the physical limits on how well these machine can operate; what kinds of designs achieve these limits; and (in collaboration with experimentalists) do real, evolved biomolecular machines actually conform with these theoretical predictions? We have a few projects (either working independently or in collaboration with a graduate student) that involve computational simulation of the behavior of model molecular machines, such as ATP synthase (an ingenious crankshaft that makes the basic chemical currency in all living things) and kinesin (an equally ingenious bipedal ‘walker’ that transports cargos along the cytoskeletal tracts that criss-cross every cell). With this simulation data we can examine the soundness and usefulness of recently developed theoretical frameworks (our own and others’) to understand how molecular machines can maximize their miles per gallon. A successful summer would produce theoretical ideas to be tested in later experiments, and (with some follow-up during the next school year) would produce a paper for publication. The day-to-day work involves writing computer programs to simulate dynamics (typically in Python, Matlab, or C/C++, but we are flexible), debugging (sad but true) and testing your programs to make sure they do what you intend, and analyzing the data you generate. These projects are generally best suited for students with some exposure to statistical/thermal physics and computer programming, but most important is enthusiasm to pursue the ideas and dedication to solve problems.
7- Study statistical physics using feedback traps

          John Bechhoefer johnb@sfu.ca website
Feedback is commonly used to regulate the temperature of our homes or our bodies, the flow of fluid in a pipe or cars on a road, and more. But there are more creative uses, too: we can use feedback to create entire new dynamics for particles. Placing a small silica bead in water in a “virtual potential” created by a feedback loop gives us nearly complete freedom to implement what had been only thought experiments: Maxwell’s demon, Szilard’s engine, Landauer’s bit erasure, and more. At SFU, we have several setups for exploring such questions. Previous undergraduate students who have visited the lab have worked on projects ranging from the technical development of new techniques for trapping to new ideas for controlling effective damping (dissipation) to new versions of the classic thought experiments described above. Depending on your interests and experience, you can work on a project that will be interesting, challenging, and fun.
8- Quantum computing: Quantum control and qubit hardware development

          Stephanie Simmons s.simmons@sfu.ca website
We have known the laws of quantum mechanics for nearly a century, however we have yet to fully harness these physical processes to build quantum technologies. Quantum technologies such as physically-encrypted quantum communications (as opposed to todays computationally-encrypted schemes such as RSA), and powerful quantum computers (able to exponentially outperform todays computers at specific key tasks) are still under construction. The worldwide race is on. Our lab is working to build these technologies using silicon, the very material used for modern CMOS semiconductor chips. Not only is this to benefit from the large and highly successful semiconductor industry - one could readily imagine a quantum co-processor - it is also the material of choice because the quantum bits embedded in silicon are arguably the best solid-state quantum bits ("qubits") available.

Our team aims to link silicon spin qubits using photons by using carefully engineered integrated photonic circuits in silicon. There is a lot to do, and there are a number of projects that motivated students could fit into a summer which will hopefully lead to a publication. Particular projects will be chosen to match the capabilities and interests of the successful USRA applicant(s). These projects could include a selection from:

Software (simulation and application of quantum algorithms, development of our quantum control software package)

Hardware (engineering of custom cryogenic quantum equipment able to deliver pulsed and CW optical, microwave and radio quantum-control signals to the qubits, qubit measurement tools)

Design (integrated photonic circuit simulation, design, testing and analysis, chip screening, fabrication, and quality assurance).

9- Low temperature photoluminescence spectroscopy of zinc oxide semiconductors

          Simon Watkins simonw@sfu.ca website
Zinc oxide is a semiconducting material that is under active investigation worldwide for a variety of potential applications including visible and UV LEDs and laser diodes, UV optical detectors, gas sensors, etc. The MOCVD laboratory at SFU has a program to grow nanostructured ZnO with the aim of achieving n-type and p-type doping, which so far has been a great challenge for the research community. The candidate will assist in the study of low temperature optical processes in thin films of zinc oxide grown at SFU. The candidate will help to set up a tunable UV light source for selective excitation of electron-hole pairs in ZnO nanowires in order to understand several physical processes in this material. Some basic data analysis and computer data acquisition skills are required. Experience with Labview and Matlab or IGOR are an asset. Some knowledge of basic semiconductor physics processes is desirable but not necessary.
10- Lipid nanoparticle phase behaviour

          Jenifer Thewalt jthewalt@sfu.ca website
Solid state deuterium nuclear magnetic resonance is a uniquely powerful experimental approach to the study of phospholipid structure in lipid membranes, yielding quantitative and sensitive determinations of the conformational order of lipid chains as well as the membrane topology. Cell membranes have traditionally been characterized as liquid crystalline lipid bilayers containing membrane proteins and other membrane-associating biomolecules. Membranes are effective barriers to many drugs, including those used in gene therapy, but recent advances in the design of drug delivery vehicles have been promising. Specifically, the use of small interfering RNA complexed with lipids in the form of lipid nanoparticles (LNP) has been an area of great excitement. See, for example, Figure 3 in Fougerolle et al., "Interfering with disease: a progress report on siRNA-based therapeutics" Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 6, 443-453 (2007). These lipid complexes typically contain positively charged lipids which stabilize the negatively charged RNA "cargo". Understanding how LNPs associate with endosomal membranes to eventually release the cargo into the cytoplasm requires understanding how these unusual positively charged lipids behave - how susceptible to form non-bilayer phases are they? Endosomal membranes contain a significant amount of negatively charged lipids, one of the most important being lysobisphosphatidic acid (LBPA). The project will determine how LBPA interacts with cationic lipids. The results of this study are expected to directly benefit researchers optimizing the design of lipidic drug delivery vehicles.
11- Terahertz Conductivity Measurements

          J. Steven Dodge jsdodge@sfu.ca website
Our group uses time-domain terahertz spectroscopy to determine the terahertz-frequency conductivity of semiconductors, metals, and superconductors. With this information we can experimentally determine the mobility of semiconductors, the carrier scattering lifetimes of metals, and the superfluid density of superconductors. Generally, we try to choose materials that are not well understood within the current frameworks of condensed matter physics, particularly metals in which magnetic fluctuations play a role in determining the electrical conductivity. An NSERC USRA would take on the responsibility for measuring the temperature-dependent terahertz conductivity of one or two materials that we are studying, and analyze the resulting data in light of current condensed matter theory. Materials currently under study include high temperature superconductors and MnSi, a magnetic metal that is associated with an interesting quantum phase transition.
12- The response of an array of segmented germanium detectors at its interaction with high-energy gamma rays

          Corina Andreoiu corina_andreoiu@sfu.ca website
An experiment to investigate the response of an array of segmented Germanium detectors at the interaction with high-energy gamma rays has been performed using the beta decay of a radioactive beam of Berylium-11. The data analysis is currently under way and requires a dedicated effort. We are seeking a candidate with a background in science and good computer skills, successful in the coming 2012 NSERC and/or USRA-VP application at SFU, to take the data analysis further and bring it up to a level worth of publishing. The project is under the nuclear science umbrella, and it involves and develops a set of skills that are equally transferable to science and industry. The student will get familiar with fundamental concepts on subatomic particles, particle accelerators, radioactive/unstable beams and nuclei, radioactive decays, quantum mechanics, interaction of radiation with matter, nuclear instrumentation and detectors, computers and simulations, etc. It is expected that the student will work in collaboration with other students and postdoctoral fellows, has initiative and is highly motivated, and genuinely interested in science. (Note: This project is cross-listed with the Department of Chemistry)
13- Microwave spectroscopy of heavy fermions at millikelvin temperatures

          David Broun dbroun@sfu.ca website
Our research group studies unconventional superconducting states at low temperatures. One particularly interesting class of material is the heavy fermion superconductors, so called because strong coupling to spin fluctuations enhances the effective mass of the electrons by factors of 100 to 1000. As well as renormalizing the effective mass, the exchange of spin fluctuations is also believed to provide the electron pairing glue responsible for superconductivity. The main experimental technique that our group uses to study these materials is microwave spectroscopy, which we carry out in the frequency range 2 to 40 GHz and at temperatures down to 0.04 K. Microwave experiments give direct information on several aspects of the superconductivity: the structure of the Cooper pair wave functions, which often corresponds to pairs with finite angular momentum the dynamics of quasiparticle scattering, which tells us about the nature of the electronic states that superconductivity emerges from and the presence of coherent, collective absorption of microwaves by the superfluid condensate. The goal of the project will be to carry out a complete investigation of a particular heavy fermion compound, using our powerful and easy-to-use dilution fridge system. The student will have the opportunity to work on subprojects that include some or all of the following: theory of superconductivity and correlated electron systems mechanical design and construction of low temperature apparatus microwave electronics and signal processing experiment automation and data acquisition (using LabVIEW software) data analysis and modelling (using Mathematica)
14- Higgs Properties - Particle Physics (ATLAS)

          Bernd Stelzer stelzer@sfu.ca website
The Group The SFU experimental particle physics group (hep.phys.sfu.ca) currently consists of three professors (Dugan O'Neil, Bernd Stelzer, and Mike Vetterli), three postdoctoral fellows, and 8 graduate students. We are currently involved in the ATLAS experiment and have openings for ATLAS students in summer 2013. The ATLAS Experiment This experiment is running at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva (atlas.ch). The accelerator is colliding 2 beams of 3.5 TeV protons in order to study, among other things, the mechanism of electro-weak symmetry breaking. The biggest physics breakthrough of 2012 has been the discovery of a "Higgs-like" particle by the ATLAS and CMS experiments. Our group is very active in this area of study and are pursuing measurements of the properties of this new particle. With the ATLAS experiment, we are also searching for phenomena that cannot be explained by the Standard Model of particle physics. Such phenomena would point the way to new theories that would extend the already impressive predictions of the Standard Model. The SFU group is involved in several technical aspects of ATLAS. We are working on hadronic and jet calibration issues for the full ATLAS Calorimeter. We are also codeveloped and maintain ATLAS Global monitoring which performs real time assessment of data in the ATLAS control room at CERN. Within Canada we have been leading the preparation of the computing (hardware and software) to analyse the enormous amount of data that ATLAS will produce (several PetaBytes per year). ATLAS has established an international network of computing facilities to deal with this data set. The Canadian network includes a so-called Tier-1 center at TRIUMF (a project lead by SFU) and a Tier-2 analysis center at SFU. Concerning physics analysis, we are involved in searches for the Higgs boson (WW and tautau channels), searches for new massive particles, and extra dimensions. Summer Projects on ATLAS at SFU At SFU, we contributed to the Higgs boson discovery in the W boson decay mode and are leading now Higgs boson property measurements in this channel. This project will centre around optimizing the measurement of the spin and parity quantum numbers of the Higgs boson. Several studies are required to optimize the analysis technique to extract these properties from the data for the final publication of the LHC Run-1 dataset.
 

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