Project Descriptions 2019

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.

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!

Nanoparticle Diffusion in Random Networks

Prof N. Clarke - F36

We will develop a computational model to simulate how nanoparticles diffuse when constrained by a random network with a mesh size which is comparable to that of the nanoparticle. Recent experimental results have shown that under certain conditions the motion of the nanoparticles becomes sub-diffusive, that is the mean squared distance that they move is not linearly proportional to time, as is the case with normal diffusive processes, but is proportional to the square root of time. The aim of the project is to understand what physical processes lead to such behaviour. You will develop a Monte Carlo model, coding in either C or Python.

Can Machine Learning Complement Physical Models?

Prof N. Clarke - F36

We will explore the ability of machine learning to replicate computational models. We will use a model of a phase transition as a test case, specifically exploring the dynamic process of phase separation. This can be described using partial differential equations. Output from such models will be used to train and test a machine learning algorithm, and the ability of the algorithm to reproduce new computational results will be tested. We will use a technique known as Gaussian processes for the machine learning, either developing the code in C or Python or using existing tools within Matlab. Although this is not a data analysis project, it will require the use of statistical methods since these are the foundation of machine learning.

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).

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.

The Student-Project Allocation Problem

Prof. M A Fox - E14

Every year, the Department runs several project modules in which students are given a list of projects on offer, and are asked to express their preferences in order of priority. The module leader then has the task of matching students to projects, aiming that as many as possible get their first choice, subject to the constraints on the number of projects an individual supervisor can run. However, this is not normally possible. Some projects and/or supervisors are very popular, with several students putting them as their first choice. How do we decide which student gets their first-choice project in the fairest possible way? For example, if several students choose this project as their first choice, then it will be up to the module leader to decide who gets it. Your task is to come up with a fairer system. That's what the project is all about!

The project is about writing a computer programme to optimize the allocation based on various criteria. This is not a simple problem. If there are N students and each student gets 3 choices, then there are 3N possible permutations. Last year, there were 46 students for PHY480, so this makes ~1022 possibilities. Many of these can be excluded, as they have two students doing the same project, but this has to be checked efficiently. I will provide an anonymised data set that can be used for the analysis, which can then be used to compare a human selector against the computer programme.

NB: This project requires computing skills, and the supervisor will NOT be able to provide help in detailed coding questions. You should only choose this project if you are confident in your ability to write code.

Random Walks: A Guided Tour

Dr. M Grell - D30

Diffusion is sometimes modelled as a 'random walk', and that is easily simulated on a computer with 'Monte Carlo' methods. However, this is of limited scientific value, because an almost trivial exact solution is known for the 'scaling' of root-mean-square (rms) distance from origin, R, with the number of steps, N: R ~ Na. Namely, scaling exponent a = ½ exactly, independent of dimensionality (d) of the space you are walking in. A far more interesting scenario is the 'self-avoiding random walk' (SARW), where 'size exclusion' forbids that the walk can cross its own path. The classic example is the 'coiling' of a linear polymer chain of N repeat units dissolved in a good solvent. Now R is the rms 'end-to-end' distance, which is seen as the 'size' of the resulting coil. For the SARW, a > ½, and a does depend on d. Polymer chemist Paul Flory has shown a beautiful mean-field theory that gives us approximate a(d) for all d, and a(1), a(3), and a(d→∞) are known exactly, albeit the theory for a(3) is fiendish. So computer simulations of the SARW are scientifically far more rewarding than for the simple random walk, and that is where you come in.

You shall write code that simulates SARWs for different N in different d spaces and establish exponent a from the results (the latter is easy, plot log R vs log N: straight line, slope a). As supervisor I give you full tuition on the theory of polymers and SARWs, or you may have already had it as part of PHY377. That's not too hard. But I expect you to handle the computing itself (hardware, software, coding) on your own. So if you are e.g. a confident Python user/coder and want to apply your skills to a relevant Physics problem, here's your chance.

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?

Prof 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

Prof 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

Prof 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

Prof 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.

Muon Tomography of Volcanoes

Prof V Kudryavtsev & H Moss- E45

Project type: Computational, requires programming skills at a level of 2nd year programming modules.

Muon tomography is one of the new promising techniques to monitor the movement of magma in volcanoes. Muon flux is sensitive to the density of matter it passes through. A joint project between the University of Sheffield and Industrial University of Santander (Bucaramanga, Colombia) aims at investigating the visibility of the technique by simulating muon propagation through one of the Colombian volcanoes. The 3rd year project will be part of these efforts and will include simulating cosmic ray muon production and transport, as well as the analysis of the results.

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

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

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.

The evolution of inversely mass-segregated star clusters (reserved)

Dr R Parker

This project is reserved.

Chaotic Simple Pendulum: Compare Experiment with Simulations

Dr M Quinn - F37

If a simple pendulum is driven there are conditions where the motion becomes chaotic. This project will combine both experimental and computational methods. The initial objective is to build a simple driven pendulum system and perform measurements of motion particularly focused on transitions to chaos for different conditions such as driving frequency and amplitude. The student will then develop a numerical model of the system and perform simulations for similar physical parameters. This will enable a comparison between both methods.

Investigate Chaotic Motion of a Compound Pendulum using Numerical Simulation Methods

Dr M Quinn - F37

The objective of this project is to build a numerical model of a compound (or double) pendulum using the Python programming language. Using this model, the student will perform a numerical investigation of chaotic motion to determine dependency of initial conditions, transitions to chaos and to characterise the resulting strange attractors.

Investigate Chaotic Motion of a Compound Pendulum using Experimental Methods

Dr M Quinn - F37

This project aims to perform accurate measurements of motion for a driven compound pendulum system. Existing compound pendulum apparatus may be utilised. An investigation of the dependency of the motion on initial conditions will be made such as initial amplitudes, kinetic energy and mass. The analysis of the system should aim to measure and characterise transitions between linear and nonlinear regimes.

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.)

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.

Automating Task Scheduling for Physicists

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.

The Physics of SCUBA Diving

Dr T Vickey - D27

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.

Deep Machine Learning to Identify Semiconductor Sensor Imperfections

Dr T Vickey - D27

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 Sheffield Semiconductor Detector Facility (SSDF) in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Deep Learning tools such as KERAS and TensorFlow will be used to train machine neural networks to automatically identify surface imperfections on silicon sensors.

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.