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We describe below ten projects in the REU's three research areas and provide links to the web pages of the associated faculty mentors. We expect that nine of these projects will be offered to prospective REU participants in 2018.


Mentor: Andrew Baker
Project: Probing Galaxy Evolution Through Stacked Detections of Interstellar Gas and Dust
Description: Determining how galaxies' interstellar gas and dust content varies as a function of mass, environment, and redshift is an important prerequisite for understanding how galaxies evolve over cosmic time. An important step forward will occur in 2018, with the completion of South Africa's powerful new MeerKAT array of radio telescopes and the start of a several-thousand-hour survey of galaxies' neutral atomic hydrogen gas out to a redshift z ~ 1.4. Because this LADUMA survey will target a region of the sky in which the redshifts for several thousand galaxies have already been measured at optical wavelengths, it will be possible to "stack" the MeerKAT data at large numbers of positions and redshifts in order to achieve statistical detections of neutral atomic gas in well-defined samples of galaxies, each of which would be too faint to detect individually. In this project, the REU student will use existing optical observations of the LADUMA field and computational modeling to define mass-selected samples of galaxies suitable for stacking, which will then be used to probe the evolution of their interstellar gas and dust over the last nine billion years.

Mentor: Jack Hughes
Project: The Most Massive Galaxy Clusters in the Observable Universe
Description: We have begun a comprehensive multi-wavelength follow-up program utilizing new and archival observations across the electromagnetic spectrum aimed at confirming several hundred unconfirmed high-significance galaxy cluster candidates detected by the Planck satellite. These cluster candidates were detected through the Sunyaev-Zel'dovich (SZ) effect, in which hot electrons in the intracluster medium inverse-Compton scatter photons from the Cosmic Microwave Background radiation. The SZ effect produces a mass-selected sample that is essentially independent of distance. The REU student will be involved in characterizing the new clusters using newly acquired optical and near infrared imaging from 4-m telescopes in Chile and Arizona, optical spectroscopy with the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT), archival and new observations from Swift, Chandra, XMM-Newton, and other X-ray missions, infrared observations from WISE and 2MASS, and other sources as appropriate. If time permits, the REU student will also explore the effects of different assumptions about the cluster mass-observable scaling relation on the cosmological constraints derived from Planck clusters.

Mentor: Chuck Keeton
Project: Focusing Cosmic Telescopes on the Distant Universe
Description: Studying galaxy formation in the young universe is one of the frontiers of observational cosmology. Distant galaxies are small and faint, but massive clusters of galaxies can act as "cosmic telescopes" that magnify the sources and make them easier to detect. Our group studies this gravitational lensing using data from the Hubble Frontier Fields program and other observational campaigns. In this project, the REU student will quantify how clusters magnify distant sources and examine how that magnification affects our view of high-redshift galaxies.

Mentor: Carlton Pryor
Project: Characterizing the Space Motions of the Satellite Galaxies of our Milky Way Galaxy with Gaia
Description: The number of satellite galaxies around our Milky Way Galaxy and their distributions in space and luminosity are considered important tests of galaxy formation models. While simulations based on the standard cold dark matter cosmology now mostly pass these tests, an apparent planar distribution of the satellites remains hard to explain. In April 2018, the second data release from the Gaia mission will provide a position, parallax, and proper motion for about 1 billion stars down to a G magnitude of 20. In this project, the REU student will use these data along with existing proper motions for 18 satellites (about half measured by our group using the Hubble Space Telescope) to study the motions of the satellites around our Galaxy. The long-term goal is to compare these motions to those predicted by simulations of galaxy formation, and thus to find new ways to test these simulations.

Nuclear and high energy physics

Mentor: Amit Lath
Project: Research with the Compact Muon Solenoid Experiment at the Large Hadron Collider
Description: High energy particle physics is an exciting field, filled with many yet-to-be-answered questions about the world around us. The highest energy ever collider in the world, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), collides protons at a high energy and provides us with the tools to answer some of these questions. State-of-the-art technology used by the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) detector at the LHC plays a key role in this effort. The REU student working on this project will have the opportunity to work on a range of possible searches for new particles and new phenomena such as those predicted by supersymmetry in current CMS data, as well as help design innovative new search techniques for the challenging environment of the upcoming High-Luminosity LHC (HL-LHC).

Mentor: Jacquelyn Noronha-Hostler
Project: Squeezing Nature's Most Perfect Fluid
Description: Instants after the Big Bang, the universe was filled with the Quark Gluon Plasma (QGP) — the most perfect fluid known to humanity. Currently, in state-of-the-art high-energy nuclear physics experiments, "Little Bangs" are created to reproduce the primordial QGP on Earth by smashing two gold ions into each other at nearly the speed of light. These experiments are exploring densities that exist nowhere in nature, and the question still remains if the QGP acts as a nearly perfect fluid at these densities. The REU student will explore different ways to numerically compute the viscosity of the QGP fluid at large densities, in order to make direct theoretical comparisons with experimental results.

Mentor: Sevil Salur
Project: Investigating Properties of Quark Gluon Plasma with Heavy Ion Collisions at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider
Description: Quantum chromodynamics (QCD), the fundamental theory of the strong force, predicts the liberation of quarks and gluons (partons) to create a new phase of matter, the Quark Gluon Plasma (QGP). During the last 10 years, experiments performed at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) tested this prediction and explored the properties of this novel form of matter. It beceme evident that in relativistic heavy ion collisions, the conditions are met to produce the hot and dense strongly interacting medium. While the naive interpretations of QCD calculations suggested that this QGP should behave like a dilute gas, the experimental results provided evidence that it behaves more like a nearly "perfect" liquid that is opaque to the passage of colored partons. At both RHIC and the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), heavy ion collisions are studied to explore new and different regions of the phase diagram of nuclear matter. In these collisions, a wide variety of internal probes such as jets became available over a broad kinematic range. Once finalized, these new measurements will quantify the fundamental properties of QGP. In this project, the REU student will focus on jet production as a diagnostic tool for determining the properties of the hot QCD matter. S/he will reconstruct jets in relativistic heavy ion collisions collected by the STAR detector at RHIC. These results will then be compared with quenched Monte Carlo simulations for a more complete, quantitative, and discriminatory picture of jet quenching observed at RHIC and will be compared to similar results at LHC to aid in our fundamental understanding.

Mentor: Sunil Somalwar
Project: A Search for Vector-like Leptons Using CMS Multilepton Data
Description: With the Higgs boson in hand, it has become very clear that there must be new physics beyond Standard Model that explains several questions not addressed by the Standard Model. For example, why do electrons, muons, and the tau lepton, i.e., the three charged leptons in the Standard Model, have the masses that they do? One possibility is that these charged lepton masses are decided by their quantum mechanical mixing with massive "vector-like" leptons (VLLs) that are not part of the Standard Model. This scenario allows for a simple understanding of the mass hierarchy among the three generations of leptons in the Standard Model. Such new particles are common predictions of many well-motivated extensions of the Standard Model, such as composite Higgs models and warped extra dimensions. The cleanest signature of the existence of such new particles would be via their decay to the normal leptons of the Standard Model, particularly, the heaviest tau lepton. If VLLs are produced in the energetic proton-proton collisions at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), we would observe their presence in excess production of three or more promptly-produced leptons in collision data. The REU student working on this project will learn the CMS multilepton search strategies developed at Rutgers, simulate the VLL signal using tools such as MADGRAPH, evaluate the sensitivity of the search to the signal, and finally, quantitatively search for the signal in the LHC data.


Mentor: Jak Chakhalian
Project: Artificial Quantum Materials with Strong Interactions
Description: Recently, "designer" quantum materials, grown in atomic layer-by-layer fashion, have been realized, sparking groundbreaking new scientific insights. These artificial structures, such as complex oxide heterostructures, are highly interesting building blocks for realizing emergent quantum states and a new generation of technologies — if we can access, study, and ultimately control their phases under technologically relevant temperature and pressure. For this project, the REU student will participate in the design and growth of multilayer materials composed of atomic layers of superconductors, magnets, and ferroelectrics and will be responsible for advanced characterization, data modeling, and analysis of magneto-transport data.

Mentor: Weida Wu
Project: Spectroscopic Imaging of Surface States in Topological Quantum Materials
Description: Topology is pervasive in physics, especially condensed matter physics, where it underpins many robust phenomena. Recently, topology has been applied to the classification of band structures and electronic properties, resulting in new quantum states of matter such as topological insulators (TIs) and semi-metals (TSMs). These topological quantum states of matter have opened up an unprecedented paradigm of realizing exotic quasi-particles (e.g., Weyl and Majorana fermions) that had been speculated but not observed to exist in particle physics, leading to unconventional phenomena such as quantum anomalous Hall effect (QAHE), surface states with Fermi arc, chiral anomaly, chiral magnetic effect, and non-abelian quantum computing. The REU student will participate in the on-going exploration of several topological quantum systems such as magnetic topological insulators and Dirac or Weyl semimetals, which might host some of these exotic quasi-particles. The real-space electronic modulation due to the interference of topological surface states will be visualized using scanning tunneling microscopy/spectroscopy (STM/STS).

Last edited January 4, 2018.