Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Physics Department

Independent Research in Physics and Astrophysics

Project Title: Acoustic Imaging of Targets using Circular Synthetic Aperture Sonar

Description: For underwater sound or airborne sound operations in acoustics, the imaging of hostile targets (seabed mines or roadside ground targets)has been a challenge due to tactical threats. In medical acoustics, imaging requires sound waves reaching tissue that may or may not have threats due to tumours or cancerous growths. Using circular synthetic aperture sonar (C-SAS) a pulse is generated at a location point on a circular path while a co-located receiver system collects the echoes from the targets in a two or three dimension region. Next the transmitter generates another identical pulse at a neighboring point along the path and echoes are collected. Using the backprojection algorithm, all echo sets along the path of a circle are used to construct an image of the target in the 2 or 3 D space. The echoes from the so-called background clutter generate a background "image-noise" that is superimposed on the actual image corresponding to real targets. The student will set up an experimental C-SAS system and study the scattering of a so-called point target in the presence of (a) no clutter, (b) light clutter, or (c) moderate clutter and perform the necessary steps to performing C-SAS imaging.   

Offered Fall 2020-2021 or Spring 2020-2021 and beyond.  Prefer SP495, SP496, SP485C, SP486C.

Contact: Dr. Murray Korman,

Project Title: Application of 2D materials in liquid crystal devices

Description: Liquid crystals (LC) are technologically important for their wide applications in optical displays—known as liquid crystal displays (LCD). In conventional LCDs, the LC material is contained in conventional LC cells, where the polyimide layers are used to align the LC homogeneously in the cell, and the transmissive indium tin oxide (ITO) electrodes are used to apply the electric field to reorient the LC along the field.

Two-dimensional (2D) materials, sometimes referred to as single-layer materials, are crystalline materials consisting of a single layer of atoms. In our Softmatter and Nanomaterials Lab, we develop electro-optic LC devices, where a variety of 2D materials, such as graphene, h-BN, and WSe2, are used as the alignment agent and the transparent electrodes.  We conduct systematic research on novel 2D material-based transmissive LC devices with improved efficiency, tunability, and enhanced reliability.  Offered Fall 2020 and beyond.  Offered courses: SP481C/SP482C, SP483C/SP484C, SP485C/SP486C, SP495/SP496, SP503/SP504, Bowman and Trident.   

Contact: Prof. Rajratan Basu,

Visit to learn more about our research on liquid crystals.

Project Title: Neutron Scattering Cross Sections

Description: Nuclear data, i.e., neutron scattering and attenuation cross sections, along with γ-ray production rates, are required in many technical fields such as basic nuclear science, experimental design and analysis, medical treatment and dosimetry, the fission and fusion power industries, homeland security, non-proliferation, safeguards, and the interrogation communities.  

The work scope involves the measurement of neutron scattering and γ-ray production cross sections from 7Li, 12C, 19F, 23Na, 56Fe, and neutron capture cross sections and strength function information on the 112,114Cd isotopes. The team will achieve ~50 days of neutrons on target each year at the University of Kentucky Accelerator Lab resulting in 5 to 10 (n,n′) and (n,n′γ) angular distributions and excitation functions.  The team will also perform (n,γ) measurements at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL).  Offered Fall 2020 and beyond.

Contact: Prof. Jeff Vanhoy,

Project Title: Understanding Antiferromagnetic Coupling Mechanisms in Heusler Alloys

Description: Heusler alloys are known for their unique magnetic properties due to their hybridized electron orbitals. This project will explore the coupling mechanisms in various antiferromagnetic Heusler lattices, with hopes to apply these materials in devices that need ultrafast processes (on the order of Terahertz) and low power. These materials would revolutionize the devices currently available to the Navy, and improve future high-frequency applications. Offered Fall 2019 and beyond.

Contact: Dr. Michelle Jamer,

Project Title: Quantum magnetometry with spins

Description: Spins in wide-bandgap semiconductors offer a nano-scale route toward pico-Tesla magnetometry.  This project will explore the utilization of silicon vacancies in SiC as quantum-scale magnetometers.  This project has applicability in future naval capabilities such as quantum gravimetry and submarine navigation.  Experimental project with work available in the USNA Quantum Photonics lab or potentially with the tandem linear accelerator for sample creation. Offered Spring 2019 and beyond.  Prefer SP496, SP504, Bowman or Trident.

Contact: Dr. Peter Brereton, 

Project Title: Nanodiamond spins in liquid crystal

Description: Single spins in semiconductors offer one route to quantum information and sensing systems.  This project, sponsored by ONR and in collaboration with the UMBC Physics and Computer Science Department looks to design a novel device coupling single spins in nanodiamond particles in a liquid crystal cell coupled to a tapered optical fiber.  Looking for a committed 3/C, 2/C or 1/C looking for a challenging and unique research project with opportunities for presentations at international conferences and working at the cutting edge of quantum physics. Offered Spring 2019 and beyond.  Prefer SP496, SP504, Bowman or Trident.

Contact: Dr. Peter Brereton, 

Project Title: Hack the Photonics Lab: Arduino integration into research-grade spectroscopy

Description: High-end scientific equipment is often discarded long before the shelf-life is up due to outdated computer interfaces.  Low cost microcontrollers used by drone hobbyists and "makers" provide a route to reinvigorating these systems.  A high-end double spectrometer ($150k value) was obtained from Navy Research Laboratory with outdated control electronics.  This project offers a motivated tinkerer with the ability to integrate an Arduino microcontroller, write Matlab control scripts and test and calibrate the equipment. Offered Spring 2019 and beyond.  1-, 2- or 3-credit courses available. Suitable for Capstone credit.

Contact: Dr. Peter Brereton, 

Project Title: Quantum Magnetism in a Spin-1 Frustrated Lattice

Description: A geometrically frustrated lattice displays magnetic moments arranged in a manner so that no colinear magnetic structure can simultaneously satisfy all nearest-neighbor exchange interactions. The resulting classical lowest energy state can be disrupted by quantum fluctuations, resulting in unique quantum ground states such as spin liquids, spin ice, or valence bond solids. I am interested in synthesizing new materials with spin-1 moments decorating a geometrically frustrated lattice such as pyrochlore or kagome. A motivated 3/C, 2/C, or 1/C midshipman would work to synthesize new powder samples, perform structural characterization with x-ray diffractometry, and magnetic susceptibility characterization.

Contact: Dr. Joel Helton,

Project Title: Deep Learning of Physics Based Modeling   (Machine Learning, Neural Nets)
Description: Machine learning involves the usage of Neural Networks to extract physics model parameters from data sets obtained from various sources.   For systems that are extremely complicated, knowing the precise physics model may be impossible to discern, however, extracting model parameters for that same system is possible.   This project is math intensive and will span several semesters, with possible Bowman and/or Trident quality applications.    Matlab or Tensorflow (python based) will be utilized. Pre-req:  Inspired Physics majors or other technical disciplines. Offered:  All semesters
Contact: Kevin Mcilhany  (

Project Title: Flow Characterization of the Earth's Oceans
Description: Learn about fluid mechanics and applied mathematical techniques which allow us to characterize exactly HOW the ocean is churning.  As a good introduction, take a look at the YouTube video from NASA called "Perpetual Ocean".  There are several variants, I recommend the 10 minute long version.  This video data collected from satellite imagery which allows us to construct velocity vector fields of the ocean surface.  From those velocity fields, fluid packets are simulated and you can then "see" the ocean flow.  Great!  Now, what can you say quantitatively about what you just observed?  This is the starting question that the project attempts to answer.  There is huge Naval relevance to this problem, as the main job the Navy performs is moving objects from point A to B through the ocean's flow.  The more we can say about that flow, the better the Navy can respond. Offered:  All semesters Pre-req:  All physics majors and other inspired technical majors. Opportunities:  Ocean Flow Characterization - possible Bowman or Trident - of interested, must be enrolled in SP495 Fall 2nd Class year or earlier. 
Contact: Kevin Mcilhany  (

Project Title: Signal Source Separation
Description: You are at a dinner party.  Several of your good friends are there.  The room is loud and noisy, yet you can still "pick out" the voices of the people you know well, even when the signal is buried in the noise.  How is this possible?   From a musical standpoint, when the orchestra plays, the music can be very complicated, yet you can still separate out the individual instruments.  This project addresses the mathematics and physics behind this idea, called "signal source separation".   During the project, you will get a very good exposure to the ideas of the Fourier Transform (FFT), musical theory, sound synthesis and applications of matrix mathematics. Offered:  All semesters Pre-req:  All physics majors and other inspired technical majors
Contact: Kevin Mcilhany  (

Project Title: Little Planet
Description: Help make an approximation to a planet.  Learn about geophysics as well as computer modeling.  Project will expose you to Matlab, and if you already have experience, we can faster still!  The end result (ultimately) would be to develop an App which can be either iPhone or Android, which is a tiny functional planet with weather, volcano's, oceans, grass growing, etc. Offered:  All semesters Pre-req:  All physics majors and other inspired technical majors
Contact: Kevin Mcilhany  (

Project Title: Mixed Bag of Topics!

Description: Prof. Mcilhany is happy to entertain many varied topics that involve physics.  If you have something in mind, please stop by and we can discuss whether your idea can be made into a full-fledged project.
Contact: Kevin Mcilhany  (
go to Top