Research Experience for Undergraduates

Projects and Mentors

Fourteen projects are available for students to choose from, covering a wide variety of research in physics, astronomy and optics. The details of each project may vary from what is described below, as projects are continually evolving. The below descriptions for each project include a research overview for the mentor, a description of the REU project, and details of what the student will do and how the student will be supervised.

Optical Sciences

Arash Mafi

Arash Mafi


Alejandro Manjavaca

Alejandro Manjavacas


Victor Acosts

Victor Acosta

Optical Sciences

Mansoor Sheik-Bahae

Mansoor Sheik-Bahae

Ion Source Research

Paul Schwoebel

Paul Schwoebel


Keith Lidke

Keith Lidke


James Thomas

James Thomas

Radio Astronomy

Greg Taylor

Greg Taylor

Supernova Remnants

John Dickel

John Dickel

Quantum Information

Elohim Becerra

Elohim Becerra

Quantum Information Theory

Akimasa Miyake

Akimasa Miyake


Mousumi Roy

Mousumi Roy

Nonlinear Dynamics

Vasudev Kenkre

Vasudev Kenkre

Theoretical Cosmology

Rouzbeh Allahverdi

Rouzbeh Allahverdi



Optical Sciences – Arash Mafi

Arash MafiResearch Overview. Prof. Mafi heads the Photonics Research Group, whose primary focus is the application of theoretical, computational, and experimental methods for cutting-edge research in photonics, especially on nonlinear and quantum aspects of guided-wave optics. His work is currently funded by an NSF Career award, and recently by grants from AFOSR. Over ten undergraduates have participated in research in his lab in the past six years - the most recent student co-authored four journal papers.

Project for REU student. The main objective of the proposed project is to develop an endoscopic optical fiber imaging system that unequivocally outperforms commercial imaging fibers on key metrics of image quality, while maintaining their robustness for real-world applications. Conventional multimode optical fibers, as well as Anderson-localized disordered fibers will be used in this research.

What the Student Will Do. The student will be involved in developing computer codes (MATLAB or Python) to extract the transported image in the case of the multimode fibers or enhance the quality of the transported image in the case of the disordered fibers. The student will also assist in the fabrication and assembly of the imaging components, experimental characterization, and system integration of the fiber-optic imaging system. While the student will participate in both theory/computation and experiment, the percentage will depend on the skills and interests of the student. In the first 3 weeks of the 10-week period, the student will participate in various optics laboratory activities to become familiar with the equipment. At the same time, the student will read several papers to establish the theoretical background needed for the work. After the initial training period, the mentor and the student will agree on a set of goals and the required tasks to achieve them. The student will work with the graduate students on the project to contribute to the computer code development and data analysis. At the same time, the student will participate in the experimental and system development efforts. In the final 2 weeks, the student will spend 50% of the time to prepare a final report of the research activities.

Supervision. The student will work under the direct supervision of Prof. Mafi.

Nanophotonics – Alejandro Manjavacas

Alejandro ManjavacaResearch Overview. The research of the group is focused on the theoretical description of the interaction between light and matter at the nanoscale, with the aim of discovering new physical phenomena and developing new applications in the field of nanophotonics. Currently there are one graduate and two undergraduate students involve in three different research projects.

Project for REU student. Heat dissipation in nanostructures is a technological problem of paramount importance for the development of smaller and faster computers. Among the different cooling mechanisms that can take place in such systems, radiative heat transfer plays a key role when the size of the structures involved or the distance between them becomes smaller than the thermal wavelength, which, for reasonable temperatures, is on the order of microns. In that limit, radiative transfer, which occurs in absence of physical contact and is enhanced by the photonic modes of the nanostructures, can dominate the overall heat exchange. Therefore, a deep understanding of the physics behind radiative transfer is of vital importance to develop novel cooling schemes for nanoscale systems.

What the Student Will Do. The student will read the relevant literature and acquire the necessary background in the topic of research. After that, the student will assist in the development of computational tools, primarily using C++ and Matlab, for the description of the radiative heat transfer between ensembles of nanostructures. Using the developed computational tools and the resources provided by the Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) of UNM, the student will investigate the effect of the geometrical arrangement and the topology of the nanostructures in the efficiency of the radiative heat exchange. In particular, the student will search for unconventional geometries that could lead to extraordinary radiative transfers.

Supervision. The student will work under the direct supervision of Prof. Manjavacas and will interact strongly with other students working in the group.

Nanophotonics – Victor Acosta

Victor AcostaResearch Overview. Acosta's lab specializes in using nanophotonic devices and techniques to study nanoscale phenomena in materials and biological systems. This research lies at the intersection of AMO physics, condensed-matter nanotechnology, and biomedical imaging. Of particular interest are spin-controllable color centers in diamond - including the Silicon-Vacancy (SiV) center - which serve as versatile tools for a wide range of quantum photonic and sensing technologies. This work currently involves a high school junior, undergraduate freshman, 4 graduate students and one postdoc and is funded by NSF and NIH.

REU Project. The student will be integrated into an ongoing quantum optics project aimed at demonstrating all-optical logic circuits operating near fundamental quantum limits, the few-photon level. The building block for these circuits is based on nonlinear optical addressing of SiV centers coupled to nanophotonic cavities. These experiments present a number of impressive spectroscopy challenges; the one the student will address is to spectrally filter a weak probe from a strong overlapped control beam separated in frequency by just a few GHz.

What the Student Will Do. The student will align a commercial scanning Fabry-Perot interferometer (Thorlabs) to the emission path of our cryogenic confocal microscope. The student will develop a technique for tuning the finesse of the cavity by slight controlled misalignment. Next, they will characterize and optimize the pass bandwidth and transmission of the interferometer, while minimizing transmission at the off-resonant control beam frequency. Together with two graduate students, they will integrate the interferometer with ongoing cavity SiV experiments to demonstrate high-contrast optical switching. They will characterize the sweet spots and dead zones of the apparatus by scanning an externally applied magnetic field and determining the EIT contrast and transmission through the filter. The student will gain experience in interferometer theory, optical breadboarding, experimental control (MatLab, LabVIEW), data analysis (Mathematica, MatLab), and communicating results (presentations at group meetings), and potentially authorship in a subsequent journal publication.

Supervision. The student will be supervised through weekly 1:1 meetings as well as daily interactions in the lab with Acosta. They will also work closely with two graduate students working on the project.

Optical Sciences - Mansoor Sheik-Bahae

Mansoor Sheik-BahaeResearch Overview. Laser cooling of solids (also known as optical refrigeration) is the processes of removing vibrational quanta by way of anti-Stokes florescence. UNM's team is the only group in the world that has performed laser cooling of solids to cryogenic temperatures. This project has been funded by NSF, and currently by AFOSR and DARPA. A major 5-year MURI project (led by UNM) for investigating “athermal lasers” will commence in the fall of 2016. We closely collaborate on this project with all three New Mexico national labs, namely LANL, SNL, and AFRL. The laboratories in Professor Sheik-Bahae's group have established a tradition of mentoring undergraduate students. Notable is his group's active participation in the department's previous REU, and UNM's NASA PURSUE Program in the late ‘90's to 2002. Also, as a Co-PI in an NSF-funded IGERT program, his group made undergraduate mentoring a key requirement for the trainees during their fellowship. Altogether, Sheik-Bahae has supervised more than 15 undergraduate researchers over the last 19 years.

Project for REU student. The REU student will engage in experiments involving laser cooling, optics, and thermal management.

What the Student Will Do. The student will be involved with laser cooling of thulium and holmium doped crystals. That includes working with a homemade tunable optical parametric oscillator (OPO) to conduct spectroscopy on the samples in the mid-IR regime. Subsequently she/he will perform laser cooling experiments that involve optical cavity design and high vacuum and thermal management techniques.

Supervision: The REU student's overall experience will be guided via frequent interaction with Prof. Sheik-Bahae, while the day-to-day activities will be mentored and supervised in the laboratory by graduate students working on this project. The student will also participate in regular group meetings.

Ion Source Research - Paul Schwoebel

Paul SchwoebelResearch Overview. Ion source research involves a wide range of studies in both fundamental and applied physics. Fundamental studies focus on surface physics, materials science, plasma physics, and thin film phenomena. Applied studies are in the areas of ion sources for lithography, microscopy, neutron generators, and medical proton therapy treatment systems. In the past decade, six undergraduates have been mentored with one staying on to complete a graduate degree.

Project for REU student. The student would work on an ongoing DARPA-funded effort to develop deuteron sources for electronic neutron generators.

What the Student Will Do. The student will assist Prof. Schwoebel in upgrading a time-of-flight mass analysis system to higher resolution. The student will be exposed to ultra-high vacuum technology, mass spectrometry, and nuclear instrumentation while participating in testing of the upgraded system. Direct practical laboratory experience will be gained in electronics and machine shop practices, including circuit breadboarding, electronics assembly and soldering, drawing of schematic diagrams and use of basic machine tools.

Supervision. The student will work under the direct supervision of Prof. Schwoebel.

Biophysics – Keith Lidke

Keith LidkeResearch Overview. Prof. Lidke's primary area of research is single molecule fluorescence microscopy for biological imaging. This includes techniques such as single particle tracking, super-resolution and hyperspectral imaging. The lab is currently funded by an NSF CAREER award to Lidke as well as several NIH grants. In addition, Lidke is one of the leaders for the ‘The New Mexico Center for the Spatiotemporal Modeling of Cell Signaling (STMC),' an NIH center for systems biology, and he directs its ‘Super-Resolution Microscopy Core'. The biological focus for many of these projects is observing and measuring kinetic parameters of interacting of proteins in live cells as well as their spatial distributions. The Lidke lab is a very active environment that typically employs a staff scientist, two post-docs, two to three graduate students and one or two undergraduate students. Since arriving at UNM in 2007, Lidke has given research opportunities to seven undergraduates whose majors include physics, biology, chemistry, and biochemistry. Two undergraduates have been included in published work. A third is currently preparing a first-author manuscript.

Project for REU student. An REU student will be integrated into ongoing research projects and will be allowed to develop a research area that could help to advance the aims of these projects. Projects include: exploring the precision limits of 3D single molecule localization; using imaging data to build or fit physical models of biological structures such as microtubules or membranes; developing and constructing a microscopy or spectroscopy setup.

What the Student Will Do. In addition to topic-specific aspects of his/her chosen research project, the student will learn to use the fluorescent microscope and become competent if not proficient in programming using MATLAB.

Supervision. The student will be guided by daily meetings with Lidke and will be directly supervised by a graduate student or post-doc involved in the project. The student will attend regular lab meetings.

Biophysics – James Thomas

James ThomasResearch Overview. This project is a combination of experiment and computer simulation to improve methods for measuring the interactions of membrane receptors. Experimental work is based on fluorescence fluctuation analysis, using a two-channel fluorescence correlation microscope. Two physics majors have recently done undergraduate honors research in the lab, and both have gone on to graduate study.

REU Project. Receptor Dynamics on Cell Membranes. A substantial library of MATLAB subroutines has been written to simulate diffusion and reaction of membrane proteins, including the effects of photobleaching.

What The Student Will Do. The student will use these routines on the supercomputer cluster at the Center for Advanced Research Computing (CARC) at UNM to simulate different measurement protocols to determine which are most effective at determining protein subunit dimerization with least systematic error from photobleaching. Different measurement protocols include:

  1. Modifying the shape and motion of the illuminated region on the cell surface
  2. Analyzing fluorescence “hops” between successive timepoints, rather than using signal auto- and cross-correlation.

The student will gain an understanding of random walks and how diffusion and reaction can be modeled in both lattice and lattice-free simulations.

Supervision. The student will work under the direct supervision of Prof. Thomas for the entire 10-week period.

Long Wavelength Radio Astronomy - Greg Taylor

Greg TaylorResearch Overview. The Long Wavelength Array project is run out of the Physics and Astronomy Dept. at UNM and is currently supported by three NSF grants (with others pending) and the AFRL. The major goals of the project are

  1. To provide observing capability in the frequency range 5-88 MHz
  2. Develop engineering talent required for future instruments
  3. Provide opportunities for student engagement

Undergraduates currently take care of much of the operations: they learn how the array works, and they are responsible for scheduling observations and monitoring the array in a linux-based environment. They also work with one of the LWA staff (comprised of two regular faculty, one research faculty, two postdocs, and several graduate students) on an LWA project so that they have a chance to work with real data, learn analysis techniques and learn how to present their results. Interaction with collaborators at LANL, Caltech, JPL, NRL and Harvard broadens the cross-disciplinary experience of the students. Six of Prof. Taylor's past undergraduates have first-authored a paper, and two others have co-authored papers.

REU Projects. Available research projects concern new pulsar, transient, and AGN science opened up by the LWA.

What the Student Will Do. The student will learn to operate the array and participate in a project, with the goal of contributing to a publication. The student will gain all the aforementioned skills and will interact with other undergraduates and the LWA staff.

Supervision. A dedicated staff member will directly supervise the student, who will also interact frequently with Prof. Taylor.

Supernova Remnants (SNRs) – John Dickel

John DickelResearch Overview. Adjunct Professor Dickel studies the remains of exploded stars to understand their physical properties and interaction with the surrounding interstellar medium.

REU Project. The student will work on a project which has been a main focus of Dickel recently: SNRs in two nearby galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. He and colleagues at several other institutions worldwide are working to establish a full census of all the SNRs in these galaxies so we can monitor their expansion into a variety of surroundings with well determined properties. They are combining data from radio, optical, and x-ray telescopes as each wavelength range shows different characteristic SNR signatures and provides a range of information on the surroundings. To fund this work, Dickel has a pending NASA proposal for Chandra observations and analysis of one of the remnants. The characteristics being studied include the polarization of the synchrotron emission from the SNRs to see how the magnetic fields control their expansion into their surroundings. The multi-wavelength aspect of this project should provide a good background for any student wanting to become an observational astronomer. The last undergraduate student working on this program was supported by a NASA grant and co-authored a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal.
What the Student Will Do. The REU student will learn to use at least two data analysis packages and then use them to examine radio images to study the properties of these objects. Learning the analysis packages will also help the student in reducing other data in the future.

Supervision. The student will be directly supervised by Prof. Dickel throughout the 10-week period.

Quantum Information - Elohim Becerra

Elohim BecerraResearch Overview. Prof. Becerra studies quantum properties of light and matter and their interaction, and methodologies for the determination of the quantum states of these physical systems via quantum tomography.

Project for REU student. Detection schemes to efficiently characterize photonic and atomic quantum states with high precision are being investigated. A compact optical coherent-detection setup for real-time data acquisition is being developed to study the statistical properties of light, which is necessary for homodyne tomography. This setup is essential for fundamental studies of entanglement transfer between single photons and complex collective atomic quantum states. The goal is to develop a homodyne optical setup to test the viability of implementing tomographic schemes in real time, and to identify the critical experimental parameters for homodyne tomographic reconstructions.

What the Student Will Do. The student will read literature about homodyne tomography and coherent detection. The student will characterize the efficiency and the noise properties of a low-noise differential detector, and create the optical setup for coherent homodyne detection. The student will also test the setup with coherent laser light and record data with fast acquisition systems (such as a digital-storage oscilloscope) for data processing. The student will learn about the basics of optics and electronics, homodyne detection, and characterization of states of light.

Supervision. ­The student will work under the direct supervision of Prof. Becerra and will interact with graduate students working in the laboratory.

Quantum Information Theory - Akimasa Miyake

Akimasa MiyakeResearch Overview. Theory of quantum information and computation, with a focus on quantum many-body systems and their relevance to quantum computation and thermodynamics. Partially funded by NSF. The mentor taught upper-division quantum mechanics twice successfully through the academic years 2013-2014, and is keen to bridge a gap between undergraduate materials and research frontiers.

Project for REU student. The research of quantum computation keeps expanding and has recently cross-fertilized with other fields like quantum many-body physics and condensed matter physics. For instance, it is recently recognized that dynamics of quantum entanglement in many-body systems is deeply connected to thermalization of the systems, and experimental observations of such behaviors offer an interesting opportunity to revisit fundamental assumptions of thermodynamics.

What the Student Will Do. The student will first learn basic knowledge about entanglement and numerical simulation of 1D quantum systems by reading a couple of introductory papers. After the student learns how to use an open-source computer code to calculate time evolution of entanglement in terms of so-called matrix product states, the goal will be to explore connections to thermodynamics and many-body localization using the code. The project will enable the student to develop scientific skills needed to read articles analytically and use computer programs for numerical calculations, as well as providing a glimpse into a rapidly expanding frontier in contemporary physics.

Supervision. The student will be supervised by Prof. Miyake and graduate students from the department's Center for Quantum Information and Control.

Geophysics – Mousumi Roy

Mousumi RoyResearch Overview. Prof. Roy's research focuses on modeling deformation in the crust and upper mantle. Continuum mechanics is used to understand the inflation/deflation of magma bodies, in addition to percolative transport of magma. The flow of a low-viscosity magma within a matrix of solid rock is relevant to the extraction of melt at volcanic systems on Earth and other terrestrial bodies. Roy is currently supported on a CSES grant from the LANL for this work and has a strong record of undergraduate research supervision. Two undergraduate majors have done Honors theses with Roy, and a third is currently working toward an Honors thesis. These theses are the basis of a publication with three undergraduate co-authors. Additionally, Roy has supervised undergraduate summer research through the NSF-funded IRIS internship program for seismology.

Project for REU student. The REU student will investigate the interaction of surface faults with inflation and deflation events within a magma body. Using a viscoelastic model for crustal deformation, the student will study how localized uplift above a magma body could cause stress-changes on upper crustal fault systems, potentially bringing them closer to failure.

What the Student Will Do. The student will first read relevant background papers. The work will be conducted using the open-source software package Pylith for modeling the deformation of viscoelastic media. The student will test the effect of periodic pressure variations in a buried magma-body on loading/unloading of stresses on a system of near-surface faults above and near the magma chamber. Model results will be compared to previously-acquired GPS data for deformation near the Socorro Magma Body in New Mexico – a classic example of a mid-crustal magma chamber. This work will likely lead to a student presentation at the annual AGU meeting and potentially a refereed publication. The student will gain skills in Python programming, working with GPS observations, and continuum mechanics.

Supervision. The student will meet twice a week with Prof. Roy and more often with other members of her group.

Nonlinear Dynamics and Statistical Mechanics – Vasudev Kenkre

Vasudev KenkreResearch Overview. Professor Kenkre's research covers a broad range of topics in Nonlinear Dynamics and Statistical Mechanics. He has received numerous grants from NSF, DARPA and other agencies, and the below projects all relate to recently NSF-funded research. He has mentored undergraduate students on various occasions in his research. The most recent was a semester-long project carried out by Samuelle Bourgault in Spring 2014, focusing on the transport of a charged particle in a one-dimensional solid characterized by a random potential and placed under a constant electric field. The educational value to the student was that she learnt in a hands-on manner how differential equations appear, are solved, and are interpreted in the context of real physical problems. The results are fully publishable.

Projects for REU Student. Projects will be drawn from the following list of four current research topics:

  1. Dynamics of Solitons: Tsunamis, Breathers, and the Davydov Proposal for Quantum Solitons
  2. Partial Differential Equation Methodology for Study of Infection Transmission in Epidemics
  3. Theory of Coalescence of Signal Receptor Clusters in Cells
  4. Cooperative Interactions in the Theory of Flocking

What the Student Will Do. The REU student will be educated in nonlinear science, in the application of mathematics and physics to ecology, and the use of statistical mechanics in biophysics. Computer work will be extensive, but so too will analytic work. A lot of the work will be closely tied to experimental observations. The student will interact not only with Prof. Kenkre but also with graduate students and postdocs in his group. For instance, for the fourth project, the student would spend the first week on literature research, followed by two weeks' training in solving differential equations in MATLAB. The next three weeks would focus on learning the analytical methodology needed for cooperative dynamical investigations. Application to the specific tasks chosen will be the focus of the following two weeks, while in the final two weeks the student would work on a publishable technical report.

Supervision. In all stages the student would be closely supervised by Prof. Kenkre and a postdoc.

Theoretical Cosmology and Particle Physics – Rouzbeh Allahverdi

Rouzbeh AllahverdiResearch Overview. Probing the dark matter-neutrino connection through dark matter indirect detection signals, with a focus on the neutrino signal from dark matter annihilation inside the Sun. Allahverdi has mentored a high school student and an undergraduate. This work is funded by NSF.

Project for REU Student. Allahverdi is studying annihilation of gravitationally captured dark matter particles inside the Sun to neutrinos and the resulting signal that can be detected in neutrino telescopes like IceCube. Features in the neutrino signal can be used to probe an important class of models that tie dark matter and neutrinos. The DarkSUSY code will be applied to simulate the capture and annihilation rates of dark matter particles within the Sun. DarkSUSY is then used to simulate production of neutrinos in the Sun, their propagation to the Earth, and the interaction of neutrinos with ice at many different energies for various dark matter annihilation channels. DarkSUSY does this by interpolating the results of simulations by the WimpSim code. The goal is to run WimpSim directly for the prompt neutrino channels, which are very important for the class of models being considered.

What the Student Will Do. The student will first read relevant background papers. The student will then explore how different experimentally allowed neutrino oscillations parameters affect the neutrino signal from dark matter annihilation inside the Sun. The goal is to obtain the final neutrino spectra for a specific model that connects dark matter to neutrinos. It is expected that this will lead to a refereed publication. The student will learn about dark matter, neutrino oscillations, and the DarkSUSY and Wimpsim codes.

Supervision. The student will work under the direct supervision of Allahverdi.