University of Vermont

The College of Arts and Sciences

Department of Physics

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

For undergraduate Physics majors, research can be conducted either during the semester for class credit or during the summer with a stipend.  Often, undergraduate research leads to thesis research, either as part of the John Dewey Honors Program or for Departmental honors.  In many instances, undergraduate research results have been published in professional peer-reviewed scientific journals. NSF and NIH-funded researchers can apply for additional funds to support undergraduates in their labs. In addition, the Department awards students from the A. Crowell Fund to support undergraduate research in Physics.

Ultrasonics and Optics (Wu)

Projects usually involves (but not limited to) applications of ultrasound and light.  Recent student research projects include: Nonlinear behaviors of bubbles, delivery of drugs and DNA on target, acoustic imaging and optical trapping.    For those who are interested in this area, please contact Professor Junru Wu via

Protein Dynamics and Biophysics (Chu)

To a physicist, biological systems provide a laboratory for using physical techniques to understand the relationship between structure and function.  Techniques in the protein dynamics lab include low-temperature infrared and visible spectroscopy as well as high-hydrostatic pressure techniques. Data-collection at the UVM Center for X-ray Crystallography (CXX) and at synchrotron X-ray sources allow for determination of protein structures of interest.

Spectroscopy... structure

Relating biological function... biological structure...

Previous student research has focused on quantum tunneling in biological systems and using computation and molecular dynamics simulations to understand ligand-transport in simple protein systems.  Future projects include detailed calculations of tunneling and protein relaxation.

Undergraduate research projects in biophysics supervised by Professor Chu include:

  • John Currier, Physics around us: Teaching non-scientists How Things Work (Readings and research, 1999).
  • Ryan Bushey, A GUI-driven code for analysis of protein dynamics Temperature-Derivative Spectroscopy experiments. (Readings and research, 2000).
  • Andrew Porwitzky, Quantum tunneling in biological systems (Readings and research, 2001).
  • Andrew Porwitzky, A study of coupled oscillators and normal modes (Readings and research, 2002).

Theoretical Physics (Clougherty)

For undergraduates who have completed some of the 200-level course work in physics, there are opportunities to pursue research projects in theoretical physics under faculty supervision. Theoretical projects typically involve using mathematical techniques to study the behavior of a model system.  To make quantitative connections to experimental data, we often use computers available on campus to numerically study a specific system.

Vibrating cluster of C60 with a Potassium Atom
Vibrating cluster of C60 molecules with a Potassium atom.

Some recent student research projects are listed below.  Many of these projects involve one or more of the following branches of physics: atomic and molecular physics, condensed matter physics, quantum physics, surface physics, chemical physics, and statistical physics.  Projects frequently relate to developing an understanding of the properties of molecules, clusters, and solids, starting from a foundation of quantum mechanics.  Such studies contribute to the emerging field of nanoscience, the science of systems whose spatial extent is of the order of nanometers!

Future undergraduate research projects include investigating new ways of making a quantum computer, exploring how biopolymers like DNA stick to surfaces, and studying the nature of the van der Waals interaction.  (That may be what enables the gecko to walk on walls!)  More details can be found on Professor Clougherty’s web site.

Undergraduate research projects in theoretical physics supervised by Professor Clougherty:

Last modified August 12 2010 09:52 PM