Project Descriptions 2018

If no project description is available here, please contact the supervisor directly.

Cooling the MICE Target

Dr. C N Booth - D24

The target for the Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment, MICE, consists of a small piece of titanium which is driven into the halo of the proton beam of the ISIS accelerator in order to generate (eventually) muons. The target is mounted at the bottom of a shaft, which in turn is connected to a set of magnets positioned in a series of fixed coils. When the coils are pulsed, the target is driven in and out of the beam as required. In addition to the small number of protons generating useful particles in the target, a large number simply pass through the target depositing energy. This energy results in significant heating of the target. Conduction of heat up the shaft will heat up the magnets and may raise them to their Curie temperature, causing failure of the device.

The project requires the construction of a computer model of the thermal properties of the target. Since it is mounted inside a vacuum, only conduction and radiation need be included. Different geometries and materials may be considered, in order to produce a target which will be able to survive the thermal environment.

This project requires a reasonable degree of proficiency in some programming language (Python, C, C++, Fortran, ...). Although there will be the opportunity to consider the interactions of protons with the target, this is not really a particle physics project. Only a knowledge of basic thermal physics is required.

The High-Energy Cosmic Ray Cut-Off

Dr. C N Booth - D24

The origin and composition of high-energy cosmic rays is still somewhat of a mystery, with both galactic and extra-galactic sources being proposed. There are, however, fundamental limits to the distance that the very highest energy cosmic rays should be able to travel. This project uses basic relativity and particle physics to investigate this limit.

High-energy gamma rays will interact with protons, exciting them into unstable states which rapidly decay. In the rest frame of a high energy cosmic ray (assumed here to be a proton), the photons forming the cosmic microwave background appear as having very high energy. A first calculation will be to determine the energy of a proton which can interact with a microwave photon characteristic of the 2.7 K radiation to produce an excited state. Using a formula for the energy dependence of the cross section (in the centre of mass or proton frames), the variation in cross section with cosmic ray energy will be evaluated. More sophisticated treatment will involve considering the black-body spectrum of microwave photons and their angular distribution. Finally, incorporating the number density of the photons will enable the mean free path of high-energy cosmic rays propagating through the universe to be determined.

This project is a modelling and computer simulation exercise. Early parts of the analysis could be performed with simple calculations and computer spreadsheets, but the full evaluation will require programming skills.

The Neutrino Factory and Neutrino Oscillations

Dr. C N Booth - D24

In the Standard Model of Particle Physics, the three types of neutrino are massless particles, and each carries its own specific lepton number which is absolutely conserved. Recent evidence, however, indicates that the neutrinos have very small but finite masses, and that the different types may "mix", allowing for example an electron neutrino produced in the sun to transform into a muon neutrino by the time it reaches the earth.

In order to study such mixing, which can lead to oscillations between neutrino types, it has been proposed that a neutrino factory should be built. This would use the decays of relativistic muons to generate beams of neutrinos, which would then be detected in apparatus hundreds of kilometres away.

This project involves the modelling of muon decay in order to determine the flux of the various neutrino species at a distant site. By considering the cross sections for neutrino interactions in matter, the number of detectable interactions will be determined. Then if neutrino mass and mixing are added to the model, the size of the signal for neutrino oscillation can also be determined.

An initial study should be done with a spreadsheet package such as Excel. More detailed results will more easily be obtained from an analytic program (written for example in C or Python) or a Monte Carlo simulation of the physics involved. Students who make good progress should be able to extend their calculation to incorporate polarisation of the initial muons and different mechanisms for neutrino oscillation. Neutrinos arising from pion decay could also be considered.

This project is suitable for students with ability in a scientific programming language. There is no laboratory work involved.

Cloud Quantum Computing: the IBM Quantum Experience

Dr E Campbell - F36

IBM have built small quantum computers with 5 and 16 quantum bits, and made them publicly accessible over the internet. You can run your own quantum software via this web interface:

A large scale quantum computer would be more powerful than any traditional supercomputer. But, the IBM devices are still too small to offer any real advantage over using your laptop or even your phone. However, they can be used to demonstrate proof of principle experiments until we build a larger quantum computer. In this project, you will work through the online tutorials to master the IBM interface and the openQASM quantum programming language. You will then design small proof of principle experiments to run on the IBM quantum computer.

Design of a First or Second Year Option Course

Dr. S Cartwright (D22)

The Department has recently reviewed the Level 1 and Level 2 Physics courses. One long-standing issue is that BSc students who do not have a talent for computing and are not interested in astronomy do not have an adequate choice of optional modules. The review committee is therefore interested in introducing one or more optional courses designed to appeal to these students.

Your task is to design a 10-credit module satisfying the following criteria:

  1. It must be at the appropriate academic standard for a Level 1 or Level 2 course.
  2. It must fit into the existing framework, i.e. it must not duplicate existing material.
  3. The subject matter should appeal to the class of students discussed above.

Your design must include all the elements necessary to propose a new course to the University, including such issues as assessment strategy, prerequisites, learning outcomes, etc. A syllabus and a set of lecture notes will not suffice!

Development of Demonstrations for Year 2 Electromagnetism Lectures

Prof J W Cockburn - E15

No abstract provided.

Physics of Stringed Musical Instruments

Prof J W Cockburn - E15

In May 2006, a violin known as "The Hammer", made by Antonio Stradivari in 1707 was auctioned by Christie's in New York for 3.45 million dollars, making it the most expensive musical instrument in history. Stradivari's violins, as well as those of other 17th and 18th makers from northern Italy, are highly prized for their tone, projection and aesthetic beauty. However, identification of the "x-factor" that sets these instruments apart from much cheaper (and in some cases physically indistinguishable) instruments by modern makers has eluded scientists for over two hundred years. In this project, the aim will be to learn how violins work, set up experimental systems to measure and characterise the physical response of a violin to external stimuli (based on a precision miniature piezoelectric transducer system recently obtained specifically for this project) and how the response can be modified by design changes. In principle, we can study any stringed instruments (guitars etc) but bowed instruments like the violin are particularly interesting due to their greater complexity and number of "tweakable" components (bridge, soundpost, bassbar etc).

Optical Spectroscopy of Semiconductors

Prof. J.W. Cockburn - E15

Semiconductor optoelectronics has provided the foundations for many of the most important technological advances in recent years. Semiconductor physicists now almost routinely design and develop structures by quantum mechanical engineering of electron wavefunctions in so-called low dimensional structures, advanced multilayer structures where electrons and holes are selectively confined on length scales of a few nanometres. In addition to being of technological significance for the development of new devices (eg lasers and detectors), such structures also allow us to study new regimes of fundamental solid state physics, and contribute to emerging areas such as quantum computing. Optical spectroscopy is perhaps the most important tool for the study of semiconductor physics and devices. This project will begin with a short literature survey of the topic, before moving on to the development of a compact, computer based spectroscopy system for the study of semiconductor materials and low dimensional structures.

Using "Big Data" to Quantify the Behaviour of Bacteria

Dr W Durham - F32

Many bacterial species actively move to where food is more abundant, a process called "chemotaxis". However, the mechanisms that underlie this remarkable ability still remain largely unexplored. In this project, a student will develop new computational techniques to understand how bacteria navigate chemical gradients within carefully controlled microfluidic devices. We have the ability to collect very large data sets that simultaneously track the movement of tens of thousands of individual cells. The student will help design algorithms to isolate and quantify specific bacterial behaviours within these large datasets and use this to resolve the underlying physical mechanisms. In addition, students will also have the opportunity to develop computational simulations, which model the collective movement of large populations of bacterial cells. A strong background in coding is essential for this project.

Atomic Spectroscopy

Prof. M A Fox - E14

The aim of the project is to make spectroscopic measurements of the emission lines from a discharge source such as an atomic hydrogen lamp. It will involve setting up and calibrating a spectrometer to make the measurements and analysing the data to determine a value of the Rydberg constant. The spectrum for hydrogen may then be compared with that for sodium in order to obtain values for the quantum defects in sodium.

Shot Noise

Prof. M A Fox - E14

Most photodetectors operate by the photoelectric effect, in which photolectrons are generated following absorption of photons in the sensitive area of the detector. This implies that there is a one-to-one correlation between the photocurrent from the detector and the photon stream of the light beam. One manifestation of the correlation is the presence of shot noise in the photocurrent. This shot noise sets a fundamental quantum limit to the signal to noise ratio that can be obtained in all optical measurements, and is therefore of great importance in optical science. The aim of the project will be to understand the importance of shot noise in optical detection and to build a circuit to measure the shot noise in the photocurrent generated by absorption of light.

Photoconductivity in CdS

Dr. M Grell - D30

This project is for students who have tinkered with analogue electronics (breadboard, signal generator, OpAmp, LED, Oscilloscope, ...) before. Otherwise, avoid.

You shall investigate photoconductivity, in particular its dynamics, in commercial cadmium sulphide (CdS) light-dependent resistors (LDRs). Photoconductivity in CdS is strongly influenced by carrier traps below the conduction band, and their population/depopulation under varying light intensities. For this purpose, you shall design and build an intensity-modulated LED drive circuit ('blinking' LED) with variable frequency, and study the resulting frequency-dependent LDR resistance.

Bacteria Swimming Trajectories

Dr R Hawkins - E43

E-coli bacteria will swim towards a food source or away from an antibiotic by sensing the chemical gradient given off by the source. This is called chemotaxis. However, they do not swim straight there. Their path is made up of straight sections separated by times when they change direction. We call this type of motion "run and tumble". In this project you will calculate properties of this movement such as the average distance travelled and velocity of the bacteria as a function of how strong the chemical gradient is. Computational work will involve simulating the bacteria trajectories.

Spread of Epidemics

Dr R Hawkins - E43

The spread of epidemics can be modelled mathematically with partial differential equations. The aim of this project will be to construct a model consisting of suitable equations and to solve them to find out how fast and how far an infectious disease could spread in different situations. All but the simplest scenarios will need to be solved computationally (numerically &/or by simulation). If time allows, extra terms can be added to the equations to investigate new factors or interventions such as treatment or vaccination.

Growth of a Cancer Tumour

Dr R Hawkins - E43

Cancer cells grow and divide indefinitely forming a lump of cells known as a tumour. This project will investigate the growth rate of a tumour depending on different relevant factors such as availability of space and nutrients. Analytical calculations of simplified continuum models will be used and discrete simulations will be developed. Results from the two methods will be compared to each other and to experimental data from the literature.

Automating Task Scheduling for Physicists

Dr Rhoda Hawkins (E43) & Dr Trevor Vickey (D27)

In this project you will develop a computer program to assist with assigning duties to physicists with varying skills and availability. The finished program will read in input information about people's availability and skills and output a rota which assigns and schedules tasks. The program will optimise a uniform distribution of workload. If time allows, a number of extra conditions and criteria could be built in, such as obtaining an even spread of genders and allowing for part time or flexible working hours. A successful outcome to this project would produce a program which will be useful for the physics department in the future.

Measuring Anisotropic Mechanical Properties of the Bacterial Cell Wall using Atomic Force Microscopy

Prof. J Hobbs - F07

Bacteria have a stiff cell wall that maintains their shape and prevents them from exploding due to osmotic pressure. This cell wall is made of a complex polymer that is found in bacteria but not in animals, and is therefore the target for many antibiotics including penicillin. A knowledge of the physical properties of the cell wall is important if we are to gain an understanding of the physics of these relatively simple living systems, but also has potential for application in the development of new strategies for killing bacteria. In this project the atomic force microscope (AFM) will be used to mechanically probe the cell wall of bacteria, using the sharp AFM tip to deform the wall material in a controlled manner so as to be able to probe whether the wall has different mechanical behaviour in different directions (i.e. anisotropic mechanical properties). The project will involve learning how to use the AFM, application to a biological sample, and analysis of the resultant data using physics models.

Writing at the Nanoscale with Atomic Force Microscopy

Prof. J Hobbs - F07

Atomic force microscopy allows matter to be imaged and manipulated at the nanometre scale. The way in which it works is remarkably simples, taking a sharp probe and dragging it over the surface to 'feel' the structure, and yet it is capable of obtaining images with molecular and even atomic resolution. In this project the Department's new atomic force microscope (AFM) will be used, initially for imaging purposes, but then to explore its capabilities for nanoscale writing with the tip on a range of materials.

Watching Polymers Crystallise with the Atomic Force Microscope

Prof. J Hobbs - F07

Polymers are ubiquitous in modern life, and thin polymer coatings are used in applications from the high tech. to the mundane. However, there are still large areas of polymer physics that are poorly understood, one particularly important example being what controls the morphology of polymers during the process of crystallization. At length scales close to the molecular size (i.e. nanometres) there is remarkably scarce information about the process of crystallization and the kinetics of growth. The aim of this project is to use the atomic force microscope (AFM) to follow crystal growth in situ with nanometre resolution. The project will involve learning how to use the AFM and then using it to image a biodegradable thermoplastic during growth with the aim of exploring the resolution that it is possible to obtain.

Foundations of Quantum Mechanics

Dr P Kok - E12a

Quantum mechanics is a very counterintuitive theory, where particles behave as waves and cats can apparently be alive and dead at the same time. In this project you will study what we can and cannot say about the reality of quantum systems, and how we should interpret the wave function.

This project has a heavy mathematical component.

Quantum Metrology - Measurements at the Heisenberg Limit

Dr P Kok - E12a

Precision measurements are the beating heart of physics. Every time we invented a way to measure something more precisely, new physical phenomena were found. When we repeat measurements of a quantity N times, the error in the measurement is given by 1/√N. However, when we use quantum entanglement, we can improve on this precision. In this project you will discover how.

Laser Optical Beams carrying Non-Zero Orbital Angular Momentum

Dr D Krizhanovskii - E16

Quantised orbital angular momentum (OAM) is associated with topological singularities occurring in many physical systems in optics, condensed matter, cosmology and fundamental particles, characterized by a phase winding of an integer multiple of 2π around a core. Structured light with OAM has been studied for a broad range of applications including quantum information, topological photonics and optical forces. The aim of this project will be to learn how to manipulate laser optical beams using a spatial light modulator or specially designed structured optical elements. The student will develop a technique allowing to induce both amplitude and phase modulation on light and to create twisted optical beams with non-zero OAM. Furthermore, interferometric techniques will be applied to measure spatial phase variations and to characterise such laser optical vortices.

Spectroscopy of Exciton Polaritons

Dr D Krizhanovskii (E16) & M Sich

There is a strong world interest in the study of hybrid light-matter particles in semiconductor microcavities and waveguides, where strong interactions between the photonic mode and exciton results in the formation of polariton quasiparticles. The exciton component leads to very strong spin-dependent polariton-polariton interactions, which already resulted in interesting phenomena such as superfluid-like behaviour, non-equilibrium condensation, vortices and solitons. Giant optical nonlinearity in polariton systems potentially may lead to development of devices of novel functionality for all-optical signal processing.

This project concerns participation in ultrafast optical experiments to study polariton solitons and condensation. You will learn the tricks of fine optical measurements and low temperature techniques. Data analysis will be performed using Matlab or C++.

Design of Optical Microstructures for On-Chip Nonlinear Optical Circuits

Dr D Krizhanovskii (E16) & P Walker

Polaritons are novel 2D quasiparticles, which form in semiconductor microcavities due to strong exciton-photon coupling. Strong optical nonlinearity in polariton systems due to an excitonic component enables the formation of solitons, which are localised non-spreading non-diffracting wave-packets. Potentially solitons can be used in all-optical ultrafast signal processing, since they can be switched on and off on a picosecond timescale, and have well-defined shape and amplitude.

This project concerns the design of optical microstructures for guiding polariton solitons and constructing polariton soliton logic gates. Linear propagation of polaritons in structures of different geometries (Y-splitter/combiner, Mach-Zahnder interferometer etc) will be simulated using available FDTD software. Nonlinear soliton phenomena will also be investigated at a later stage, and a comparison with the experimental observations will be made.

Has Dark Matter been Discovered?

Dr V Kudryavtsev - E45

A few years ago one of the experiments searching for weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs) expected to constitute the dark matter in the Universe, reported the positive signal from WIMPs. The aim of this project is to investigate whether the claim made by this group is serious by comparing its results with those from other experiments, and to design a new experiment that will be able to test the observed signal.

Students working on this project will study astrophysical and cosmological evidences for dark matter, learn basic principles of WIMP dark matter detection and experimental techniques. At the end of the project students will present their critical analysis of the reported observation of WIMPs and the conceptual design of a new experiment able to test these results.

Background Events in the LZ Dark Matter Experiment

Dr V Kudryavtsev (E45) & E Korolkova

Area: Particle physics and particle astrophysics
Project type: Computational

This project involves Monte Carlo modelling of some background radiations for the LZ dark matter experiment as part of a large international programme for a construction of LZ. LZ will exploit a two-phase xenon technology for dark matter detection. When designing a high-sensitivity experiment, one of the crucial problems is to ensure a low background event rate from various possible sources. This project will involve simulations of some background radiations for LZ. Students taking this project are expected to have very good computing skills after completing PHY235, 236 or any other programming module and ability to learn programming and software used in particle physics and particle astrophysics experiments.

Neutron Production in Radioactive Processes

Dr V Kudryavtsev - E45

Area: Particle physics, nuclear physics and particle astrophysics
Project type: Computational

Students taking this project are expected to have very good computing skills after completing PHY235, 236 or any other programming module and ability to learn programming and software used in particle physics and particle astrophysics experiments. The project involves calculating neutron production in (α, n) reactions and comparing the results from different codes. The primary goal of these studies is to estimate the uncertainties in the neutron flux calculations due to differences in cross-section libraries and other features in different codes. This will inform low-background particle astrophysics experiments about neutron background that these experiments may face.

Activation of Materials by Cosmic Rays

Dr V Kudryavtsev - E45

Project type: Computational

Students taking this project are expected to have very good computing skills after completing PHY235, 236 or any other programming module and ability to learn programming and software used in particle physics and particle astrophysics experiments. Activation is the process of production of radioactive isotopes by irradiating a material with a beam of particles. The project involves testing activation of different materials by cosmic rays using various simulation codes and comparing results with available experimental data. Activation by cosmic rays is used in radioactive dating and also contributes to the background in high-sensitivity particle astrophysics experiments. The primary goal of these studies is to estimate the uncertainties in calculations of the production of radioactive isotopes due to activation.

Investigating Properties of W Bosons in Diboson Production

Dr K Lohwasser (F43)

Pairs of W bosons can be produced in LHC proton-proton collisions at the ATLAS Experiment. They are detected via their decay into leptons and neutrinos. An enhanced production of pairs of W bosons would be a sign of new phenomena beyond the Standard Model (SM). This project investigates ways to select events with dibosons that will target to select those events particularly interesting to beyond the SM searches. Computing skills in C++ and the software package ROOT will be acquired whilst conducting the project.

(To make arrangements to discuss this project, contact via e-mail at

Measuring Fundamental Properties of the Standard Model

Dr K Lohwasser & Dr C Anastopoulos

The project will be carried out using data from the ATLAS detector and the goal is to carry out measurements of fundamental properties of the Standard model. Various techniques used in high energy physics are explored. The goal is to calibrate the detector, measure the mass of the W bosons and perhaps find the Higgs Boson. Computing skills in C++ and the software package ROOT will be acquired whilst conducting the project.

(To make arrangements to discuss this project, contact via e-mail at

Environmental Radon Detection using Party Balloons

Drs Chloe McDaid (E26) & J McMillan

In our undergraduate teaching labs we've recently bought state of the art gamma detectors for use in a wide range of environmental and other radiation monitoring applications. To understand the sensitivity of the equipment we would like to test several hypotheses around the collection and detection of airborne radon gas using electrostatically charged party balloons. We believe that the level of atmospheric humidity and the direction of the prevailing wind should alter the ability of the balloon to collect the radon. We'd like to explore these and any other related ideas to develop our understanding of the sensitivity of the instrumentation.

Monitoring the Neutron and Gamma Emission of the Pulsed Neutron Fusion Generator

Dr. J. McMillan

A technique to monitor the flux of a pulsed neutron generator has been developed using a plastic scintillation detector shielded with a substantial thickness of lead or bismuth. The project will involve optimizing the design of this detector and testing it on the Sheffield generator.

(To make arrangements to discuss this project, contact via e-mail at

Testing Predictions: How Accurate is the Weather Forecast?

Dr. M. Malek - E34b

This is a data analysis project that will utilise an array of statistical tools to evaluate the prediction we experience most: weather forecasts.

You will first decide upon your data sets by choosing which quantities to track. These can include continuous variables (such as temperature) as well as discrete conditions like "sunny", "cloudy", "rainy". You will also select sources of forecasts, ranging from seven to sixteen days in advance.

You will then accumulate your data by charting these ten day forecast for at least a month. These data will be binned into individual calendar days; each day will have entries for each prediction, plus the actual weather as recorded on the day.

Whilst accumulating your data, you will develop your analysis techniques. These can include statistical methods such as linear regression, Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests, and hypothesis tests. With the aid of a literature search, you will also select at least one method to serve as the null hypothesis (e.g., the 'persistence model', which predicts that the weather will stay the same as the current day).

Once sufficient data has been acquired, you will apply the analyses that you have developed. You will evaluate the mean difference and standard deviation of each period of prediction, and you will determine the probability (p-value) we can trust each of your chosen weather forecasts.

Although there is no explicit physics content in this project, the analysis techniques you will learn and use are widely employed in physics research.

Using Antineutrinos for Nuclear Threat Reduction

Dr. M. Malek - E34b

The WATer CHerenkov Monitor for Anti-Neutrinos (WATCHMAN) is a US/UK collaboration that aims to harness nature's most "ghostly" particle (the neutrino) to aid in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. Small nuclear reactors can mask their thermal signature and their radiation, whilst remaining large enough to produce weapons-grade plutonium. However, they also produce copious amounts of anti-neutrinos, which cannot be hidden.

WATCHMAN will enhance existing technology for studying neutrinos with the emerging technique of gadolinium loading to produce a dedicated anti-neutrino detector. Gadolinium has the highest cross-section for neutron capture of all the elements. When an anti-neutrino interacts in the detector via inverse beta decay, the coincidence of the produced positron and the leftover neutron provides an unambiguous signal. These detectors can be used for distance monitoring of nuclear reactors in places like Iran or on the North Korean border.

The Sheffield WATCHMAN group is working with the Boulby Underground Laboratory and the Atomic Weapons Establishment to evaluate the performance of a WATCHMAN prototype at the Boulby Lab at detecting anti-neutrinos from the Hartlepool reactor complex 25 km away.

For this computational project, you will work within the RAT-PAC simulations framework to assist this effort. Possible areas of focus include optimising the detector size, sensitivity studies for the next-nearest nuclear complex (Heysham, at 148 km distance), and performance enhancement from adding water-based liquid scintillator to the detector. You will be aided by the existing efforts in our group, but will be expected to produce your own work. No previous experience with the RAT-PAC framework is expected; however, strong programming skills will be necessary.

Although not required, this project has the potential to extend into a 4th year project (and possibly beyond).

The Next Galactic Supernova Burst

Dr. M. Malek - E34b

Core-collapse supernovae are amongst the most energetic events in the Universe, yet they are still not well understood. It is only recently that our simulations of supernovae were refined to the point where they are able to explode; our current models still rely on artificial simplifications. No full simulation of a supernova explosion yet exists.

The vast majority of the energy released in a supernova is emitted as neutrinos, which travel to us directly from the core of the collapsing star. Thirty years ago, 24 neutrinos were detected from Supernova 1987; these have provided most of what we currently know about supernovae. Neutrino detection technology is continually improving, and the next-generation of experiments will see approximately 200,000 neutrinos from the next galactic supernova burst. Needless to say, this will greatly advance our knowledge of how massive stars die.

This computational project involves modelling one of the upcoming neutrino detectors and simulating their response to a supernova burst. The University of Sheffield in involved in both major next-generation experiments: the water-based Hyper-Kamiokande and the liquid argon-based DUNE.

During the project, you will learn to use one of the experimental simulations packages (either WCSim or LArSoft) and contribute to one aspect of this ongoing work. Possible contributions can include design of a trigger simulator to record the neutrino events, evaluation of detector response across a wide variety of supernova models, and evaluating sub-dominant neutrino interactions modes. You will be aided by the existing efforts in our group, but will be expected to produce your own work.

No previous experience with these frameworks is expected; however, strong programming skills will be necessary.

Although not required, this project has the potential to extend into a 4th year project (and possibly beyond).

Glass Transition Dynamics of Confined Macromolecular Systems

Dr. M. Mears - D29

Thin polymer films exhibit strange behaviour when going through their glass transition. Unlike the solid to liquid phase transition, the temperature at which glass films vitrify to a molten state depends upon film thickness, polymer size, and thermal history. In this project you will determining the glass transition profile of films using high-speed multispectral ellipsometry, and model this transition behaviour based upon our current understanding of the phase transition process.

Viscosity at the Molecular Level

Dr. M. Mears - D29

We are all familiar with the everyday property of viscosity but the underlying physics is surprisingly complex. This experimental project will allow you to explore different properties associated with macromolecular systems, such as entanglement dynamics and conformational entropy, in order to develop conceptual links between the micro- and macroscopic domains.

A New Approach to Measuring Contact Angles and Surface Energy

Dr. M. Mears - D29

The surface energy of a system defines many everyday processes such as adhesion, painting and printing - a liquid on a surface with high surface energy will tend to spread and coat the surface well.

One of the main techniques of determining surface energy is measuring the contact angle of a liquid drop using tensiometry. However the side-view approach of standard tensiometry requires a highly calibrated setup that is not appropriate for mass use such as in clinical laboratories.

This project will involve the development of a top-down contact angle measurement system that is tested against a research-grade Biolin Attension tensiometer.

The Physics of Photography

Prof. D Mowbray - E19

Photography has always had a high physics content but this has increased significantly with the advent of digital photography. A modern digital camera contains an impressive array of technology based on a number of physics principles, including CCD detectors, focussing, optics, data compression and solid state memories. The aim of this project is to research the physical principles and technology upon which modern digital cameras are based. Students are encouraged to support this with experiments using a digital camera. An additional aspect of this project would be to investigate the use of a digital camera to study physical processes, e.g. dynamics of a body using a strobe scope.

Interfacing and Sensing with a Raspberry Pi

Prof. D Mowbray (E19)

This project involves investigating how a Raspberry Pi can be interfaced to a range of sensors and output devices, both analogue and digital. Examples of sensors could include temperature, pressure, humidity and wind speed; outputs include LCD and LED displays. Parameters influencing the data acquired will be investigated. Based on initial investigations you will construct a system to log, store and display data from a number of sensors.

The project will require you to learn some Python programming and a willingness to develop basic electronics skills.

Sound Experiments for Schools' Talks

Prof. D Mowbray - E19

Sound is a key topic of both the primary and secondary science curriculum and one where a wide range of practical demonstrations are possible. This project will involve the design, construction and characterisation of one or more experiments designed to demonstrate the fundamental properties of sound and/or waves. Examples could include the range of human hearing, interference or ultrasonic levitation. The project will require a range of practical skills and some knowledge, or a willingness to learn, some basic electronics.

Construction of Equipment to Demonstrate the Properties and Applications of Light

Prof. D Mowbray - E19

2015 was the International Year of Light celebrating a number of anniversaries including Einstein's theory of the photoelectric effect in 1905 and Maxwell's electromagnetic theory of light propagation in 1865.

The aim of this project will be to construct one or more demonstrations to explain the properties and/or applications of light to the general public and/or school children. The demonstrations could show the wave or photonic nature of light and could use a range of components including LEDs, Lasers, solar cells, photodiodes, diffraction gratings, lens, prisms etc.

Development of Liquid Argon Particle Detector Technology for Neutrino Physics

Prof. N Spooner - E23

Liquid argon produces scintillation light when particles like gamma-rays or neutrinos interact in the medium. Reconstruction of such events in 3D then allows a very powerful technique for neutrino physics studies as is being proposed for the up-coming $1B mega-experiment DUNE in the USA.

In this project you will participate in development of charge and light readout technology concepts relevant to DUNE using small test liquid argon facilities in the laboratory. The project best suits a pair of able students with strong interest in gaining technical hardware skills in such areas as cryogenics, detector physics, vacuum techniques and optics.

(Requires two students working together.)

Searches for Dark Matter with the CYGNUS Directional Detector

Prof. N Spooner - E23

In this project you will work on computer simulations and data aimed at improving the design of the proposed CYGNUS10 experiment that will search for Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) that likely make up the 90% of matter in the Universe known as Dark Matter. CYGNUS10 records the direction of nuclear recoils induced by the elastic scatter of WIMPs off target nuclei in a low pressure gas. The task will be to understand and use computer code to determine how best to distinguish electron events from events expected from the dark matter particles. There may be some opportunity to look at real dark matter data as well. This is a software project where the student will learn coding concepts and the physics of gas particle detectors in relation to dark matter searches and particle or nuclear physics.

(Requires two students working together.)

RADTRACK - New Techniques to Image Particle Interactions in Gas for Rare Event Physics and Homeland Security

Prof. N Spooner - E23

This project involves work to develop a new technique to image ionisation tracks left in a target gas by interaction of radiation such as alpha particles, electrons and neutrons. The basis is the concept of the Time Projection Chamber in which the charge released by the ionisation is drifted to a readout plane in an electric field and then reconstructed in two dimensions either by recording an optical or charge signal. This is useful in dark matter searches and also assay of radio-nuclides for homeland security and other applications. The project will suit a pair of strong students interested in developing practical hardware skills and knowledge of particle or nuclear physics detectors and techniques including vacuum technology and data analysis.

(Requires two students working together.)

New Ways to Measure and Reduce Environmental Radon

Prof. N Spooner - E23

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that pervades the environment around us. It affects health but also complicates many fundamental physics experiments such as dark matter searches and searches for rare neutrino physics. In this project the student will work on developing new ways to improve the measurement of radon emanating from materials and also techniques for reducing radon. There is chance to do this with involvement with a local high-tech company Durridge Ltd. that is developing radon instrumentation in Sheffield. The project will suit a pair of strong students interested in developing practical hardware skills and knowledge of particle or nuclear physics detectors and techniques.

Efficient Light Extraction from Luminescent Nanostructures in Optoelectronic Applications and Nanoscience Research

Prof A Tartakovskii - E24

Many materials emit light under optical and electrical excitation. This can be used in opto-electronic applications such as light-emitting diodes, and in research, where optical spectroscopy is used to understand the internal structure of nano-materials. Efficient light-extraction from these devices and materials is fundamentally important in achieving energy efficient lighting and displays and in experiments where properties of individual molecules or nano-structures are studied. Here we will consider how this is achieved using many examples ranging from semiconductor quantum wells to novel 2D materials and luminescent molecules.

Principles of Magnetic Resonance

Prof A Tartakovskii - E24

This project aims to simulate the spin-echo experiment in an ensemble of nuclear spins. You will use MATLAB or another programming language for writing the code. First, you will simulate the dephasing of the nuclear spin ensemble, leading to a fast decay of the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) signal. You will then computationally apply the spin-echo method (including multiple spin-echo) to simulate the revival of the NMR signal and will find what effect this has on its spectral properties.

Optics of Novel Few-Atom-Thick Two-Dimensional Materials

Prof A Tartakovskii - E24

Following the discovery of graphene 13 years ago, tens of new few-atom-thick materials have emerged having unusual properties different from their three-dimensional 'parent' crystals. A few thousand of such materials are predicted to exist, opening a wide field for research and novel applications. In the last 5-7 years a whole new research field has grown where such materials are studied, many showing strong coupling to light.

In this project you will learn how to extract atomic layers from bulk crystals, and how to identify them using optical microscope and spectroscopy techniques. You will be embedded in the active research group ( and will work side-by-side PhD students and postdocs conducting cutting-edge research in nanoscience.

Development of a Peak Finding and Fitting Algorithm for the Treatment of HPLC Spectra

Prof L Thompson - E41

Identifying peaks in data is a common requirement in different experiments, e.g. in performing gamma ray spectroscopy. In this case a number of spectra taken using High Pressure Liquid Chromatography will be used. The task is to write a computer algorithm to locate the peaks in the data and to estimate the size of the peaks. Ideally this should be done with a user friendly graphical interface.

The Computer Simulation of Ray Tracing in a Plastic Scintillator

Prof L Thompson - E41

The aim is to develop a computer simulation of a tile of plastic scintillator to estimate the overall efficiency of the scintillator when a charged particle passes through it. The simulation will need to describe the geometry of the scintillator tile and will consider effects such as reflections and absorption in the material, both of which are wavelength dependant. The simulation will use ray tracing techniques to track the paths of individual scintillation photons to 4 points on the tile where photons are collected, by wavelength-shifting optical fibres, for subsequent transport to a photosensor. The effects of the use of reflective materials to wrap the tile and of refractive index coupling materials in and around the tile-fibre interface on the overall efficiency will also be investigated.

Simulation of Muon Scattering Tomography for Cargo Container Scanning

Prof L Thompson - E41

There is a general concern that contraband fissile material could be smuggled across our borders in cargo containers. To alleviate this, various instrumentation is employed at our borders to detect such materials. One of the methods used is so-called muon scattering tomography that uses the fact that cosmic ray muons are deflected in materials by an amount that is proportional to the Z of the material. The project will simulate a muon tomography detection system and will investigate the specifications of the system against the size and nature of the objects to be imaged.

The Physics of SCUBA Diving

Dr T Vickey - D26

The student selecting this project will get to explore the physics associated with diving. The project will focus on one or more physical principles such as pressure, buoyancy, sound and/or light, and these will be explored in depth and in a quantitative way. Computer simulations will be used by the student to explore theoretical concepts and explain (quantitatively) what one experiences while diving.

Semiconductor Detectors in Particle Physics

Dr T Vickey - D26

The students selecting this project will review the concepts behind silicon detectors and the importance of their role in active collider experiments. There will be an opportunity for some hands-on work with silicon detectors in the new Sheffield Semiconductor Detector Facility (SSDF) in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Building a 'Tesla' Powerwall using Old Laptop Batteries

Dr T Vickey - D26

The majority of old laptop batteries contain small cylindrical 18650 lithium-ion cells, the same cells that Tesla uses in their electric cars and home Powerwalls. Good cells can be harvested from old laptop batteries purchased online, tested, and integrated into DIY 'Tesla'-style Powerwall arrays that can easily store tens of kWh of energy. Connected to a system of solar panels, power produced during the day can be stored by the Powerwall and used at night. The students working on this project would test the old 18650 cells and construct a small Powerwall.

Dielectric Multilayers

Prof. D Whittaker - E12B

High reflectivity Bragg mirrors are made from alternating layers of dielectric materials, with high and low refractive index. By altering one of these layers, it is easy to make a cavity which traps light in the structure. In this project, you will use the transfer matrix method to calculate the properties of dielectric multilayers, and investigate different types of cavity design. Many of the concepts involved are directly analogous to the electronic band structure theory which will be studying in PHY380.

Lorenz Waterwheel

Prof. D Whittaker - E12B

The Lorenz waterwheel is a nice example of a chaotic mechanical system (it is, in fact, related to a model of convection in the atmosphere). Under the right flow conditions, from time to time it will change its direction of rotation. The aim of this project is to build a waterwheel, and study enough chaos theory to understand why it behaves as it does.

The Upside-Down Pendulum

Prof. D Whittaker - E12B

A simple pendulum is in stable equilibrium only when it hangs vertically below its pivot. It also has an unstable equilibrium, with the bob vertically above the pivot. However, this vertically up position can be made stable if the pivot oscillates up and down at a suitable frequency. The aim of this project is to model this effect on a computer, and build a physical pendulum to investigate the stability which is obtained.