Carnegie Mellon University

Current Undergraduate Research Opportunities

Below are some options for current CMU undergraduates interested in doing research on campus with professors. Also, feel free to knock on doors or contact Professor Ryan for guidance. Send her an email 

Still unsure? Check out the Gelfand Center's features on Prof. Alison and Prof. Tristram-Nagle to get a sense of what it means to conduct research as an undergraduate!

Astrophysics & Cosmology

Mohit Bhardwaj

Project 1: Identifying the Host Galaxies of Fast Radio Bursts Discovered by the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are extremely powerful radio blasts that can travel cosmological distances and emit more energy than the Sun does in a thousand years, despite lasting only a few thousandths of a second. However, their origin is still a mystery, owing primarily to the small sample of FRBs with known host galaxies. In this project, the student will contribute to an automated pipeline developed to identify the host galaxies of nearby FRBs.

Required skills:
  1. Python (comfortable with web scraping) 
  2. SQL (optional)
  3. Git (optional)
Project 2: A Search for Radio Transients in Wide-sky Radio Surveys

Radio transients (RTs) are currently one of the most exciting areas of astronomy, and this trend is bound to continue, especially with the new generation of synoptic wide-sky radio surveys. In this project, the student will contribute in the ongoing efforts to identify highly variable and/or fading radio transients in various new and old radio surveys.

Required skills:
  1. Python
  2. Passion for astronomy :) 
Project 3: Constraining the Emission Mechanism of Fast Radio Bursts

Fast radio bursts (FRBs) are one of astronomy's greatest mysteries. Although more than 800 FRBs have been reported to date, their origin is still a mystery. Due to this, a plethora of FRB emission models has been proposed. In this project, the student will conduct a statistical analysis on different observational attributes of FRBs in order to test various proposed FRB emission models.

Required skills:
  1. Python
  2. Inferential statistics (optional)
Project 4: Measuring Ionized Baryons in the Milky Way Interstellar Medium Using Radio Pulsars

The interstellar medium (ISM) of the Milky Way contains gas in a variety of temperature and density states which can be probed by radio pulsars, a class of highly magnetized, rotating neutron stars that emit beams of radio waves. In this project, the student will constrain the fraction of ionized baryons in the Milky Way ISM using different astrophysical observables.

Required skills:
  1. Python

For more information, contact:

Dr. Mohit Bhardwaj
McWilliams fellow
Department of Physics,
Carnegie Mellon University
Office: 8301 Wean hall

Rupert Croft - Cosmology

Using deep learning to investigate the intergalactic medium

Tiziana Di Matteo - Astrophysics & Cosmology

Simulating the first galaxies and black holes at the cosmic dawn

Richard Griffiths - Astrophysics & Cosmology

Investigation of gravitationally lensed images in Hubble Space Telescope data, with the goal of constraining the properties of dark matter using gravitational 'folds'.

Tina Kahniashvili - Theoretical Cosmology

Topic 1: Gravitational waves from the early universe
Topic 2: Cosmological magnetic fields: their origin, evolution, and signatures

Antonella Palmese - Observational Astrophysics and Cosmology

Machine Learning Classification of astronomical transients
Follow-up of gravitational wave events with optical telescopes
Gravitational Wave Standard Siren cosmology

Jeff Peterson - Radio Astronomy and Cosmology Instrument Development

Students design and build radio astronomy receivers and use these to search for Fast Radio Bursts and the origins of the first stars which formed 200 million years after the Big Bang. We deploy these instruments to remote sites in Canada, South Africa, and desert islands such as Isla Guadalupe and Marion Island.

Biological Physics

Shila Banerjee

We are looking for motivated undergraduates to conduct theoretical and/or computational research in the area of biological physics. Possible projects include: modelling the growth and replication cycle of bacteria, phase transition in cells, computational modelling of cell mechanical properties. No prior knowledge of biology is necessary and the research projects can be conducted remotely. Prospective students are encouraged to browse through work done in our group.

Markus Deserno

My group is interested in theoretical and computational biophysics, with a focus on lipid membranes. Typical theory projects focus on membrane elasticity, shape/geometry, phase behavior, and the implications of lipid asymmetry across the leaflets of a bilayer. Computational projects approach the same subjects via molecular dynamics simulations of highly simplified models, or investigate how to measure a membrane’s elastic parameters by analyzing its fluctuations. For details, check out some of our recent work on our webpage If you’re interested in any of this, talk to me. As a prerequisite, you do not need a background in biology, but some familiarity with thermal/statistical physics is very useful. For computational projects, some experience with programming is needed, but you definitely don’t have to be seasoned coder.

Barry Luokkala

Optical Tweezers: A highly-focused laser can be used to manipulate biological material at the subcellular level. We are in the process of developing a new experiment for the Modern Physics Laboratory, based on the 2018 Nobel Prizewinning technique.

John Nagle

The research area is the biological physics of membranes.  The focus is to help interpret data obtained by the neutron spin echo.technique that is a major effort carried out at reactors (NIST in the US and ILL in France). The specific project is to evaluate integrals numerically.  If you choose this project, you will write code on your computer.  If higher precision is required, the code may then be run on a faster CMU cluster.

Fangwei Si

Our lab's drive is to discover “biological laws” that can help us understand living systems in a quantitatively precise way. Towards this goal, we develop/adapt tools, do rigorous measurements, and define new concepts. We are currently searching for simple yet fundamental rules connecting the complicated form of bacterial cells and their fitness in different environments. Please check out the lab website for more descriptions of our research. If you are curious about how living systems emerge from non-living matter and want to get your hands dirty in a wet lab, you are always welcome to contact us!

Stephanie Tristram-Nagle

The Tristram-Nagle lab uses x-ray diffuse scattering (XDS) with the Physics Dept. x-ray instrument or a synchrotron source to study the interaction between antimicrobial peptides and lipid model membranes that mimic real bacterial and eukaryotic membranes. These peptides are a promising new antibiotic to overcome the problem of bacterial resistance leading to super bugs. Physics students will learn how to collect and analyze x-ray data, make graphs and write results into papers. We also use circular dichroism to determine the secondary structure of the peptides as they interact with lipid membranes. Dr. Tristram-Nagle has openings for in-person students. WEBsite: 

Newell Washburn

My group is interested in understanding the physics of aging using both experimental and computational methods in collaboration with Prof. Fabrisia Ambrosio at the University of Pittsburgh. The current focus is on modeling transcriptomic changes in muscle stem cells to elucidate alterations in information flow through the gene network as a function of organism age. Our computational tools include machine learning, information theory, and by drawing analogies with classical and statistical mechanics. Email

Condensed Matter Physics

Randy Feenstra - Experimental Condensed Matter

Simulation and/or curve fitting of spectroscopic data from a scanning tunneling microscopy or a low-energy electron microscope.

Steve Garoff - Applied Soft Matter Physics

Experimental projects on a wide variety of topics in wetting and the behavior of complex fluids

Sara Majetich - Small Angle Neutron Scattering of Magnetic Nanoparticles

This computational project will compare theoretical models of magnetization patterns in magnetic nanoparticles with data from small angle neutron scattering (SANS) experiments. Just as x-ray diffraction arises from the Fourier transform of the electronic charge distribution in a crystal, neutron scattering can be used to reveal the nanoscale magnetization. Working with collaborators at NIST and Oberlin College, the Majetich group has investigated many types of magnetic nanoparticles using SANS with polarization analysis. Here neutrons are polarized “spin up” or “spin down” before scattering, and afterward they are analyzed to see if there have been spin flip events due to the magnetization in the nanoparticles. SANS with polarization analysis was used to demonstrate non-uniform magnetization within nanoparticles [1]. When a magnetic field is applied, surface spins may cant reversibly, depending on the temperature and magnitude of the field. For magnetite, Fe3O4, the form factors of a sphere plus a spherical shell were sufficient to explain the experimental results, but with manganese ferrite, MnFe2O4, the magnetization pattern is clearly more complex. The approach will be to assume a magnetization pattern for the nanoparticles, divide them into two-dimensional slices, take the Fourier transforms, and add up the scattering contributions from the different slices. There is already a lot of experimental data that will be useful for comparison and model refinement. 

  1. Visualizing Core-Shell Morphology of Structurally Uniform Magnetite Nanoparticles, K. L. Krycka, J. A. Borchers, J. A. Borchers, Y. Ijiri, W. C. Chen. S. M. Watson, M. Laver, T. R. Gentile, S. Harris, L. R. Dedon, J. J. Rhyne, and S. A. Majetich, Phys. Rev. Lett. 104 207203 (2010); doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.104.207203.
Contact Professor Majetich

Simran Singh - Experimental Condensed Matter

Spin transport in atomically thin quantum materials

Mike Widom - Condensed Matter Theory

Professor Widom models the structure and thermodynamics of complex crystal structures using a combination of quantum mechanics and statistical mechanics. Highly motivated students with strong computer skills are welcome to inquire about a research position.

Nuclear & Particle Physics

Roy Briere - Experimental Particle Physics

Belle II experiment at KEK; various software projects

Matteo Cremonesi - Experimental Particle Physics

Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at CERN in Geneva.
Searches for dark matter with CMS data.
Data analysis using industry-standard computing techniques.
Real-time machine learning.

Valentina Dutta - Experimental Particle Physics

CMS experiment at CERN and Light Dark Matter eXperiment (LDMX) at SLAC.

Possible projects on CMS vary from data analysis related to searches for new physics including the use of machine learning, to hands-on instrumentation work. LDMX is an exciting prospective experiment to search for dark matter lighter than the proton mass, and is in the development phase. Possible projects on LDMX include the analysis of simulated data sets and software development.

Manfred Paulini and John Alison - Experimental Particle Physics

CMS experiment at CERN with various projects from hands-on instrumentation work to data analysis and also event classification using machine learning