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Taste of Research

The School of Physics is offering Taste of Research, which is open to second and third year student, and Step into Research, the new voluntary program for first-year students, during Term 3, 2019. The Taste of Research and Step into Research program will provide undergraduate physics students the opportunity to undertake a small research project with one of the research groups in the School.

Second and third year students in Advanced Science or Bachelor of Science degrees can enrol into PHYS4200, SCIF2041 or SCIF3041 (each 6 UOC). Students can choose to undertake projects for course credit, or voluntarily. First year students can choose to voluntarily take a research project only. 

Details about available projects are listed below. If  you would like to apply, you will  need to complete this survey https://unsw.au1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_esnyr5HXauQrZdj by 11:59pm Sunday 14th July.

Professor Jeremy Bailey

Stellar Polarimetry at UNSW 

Polarimetry is a technique for measuring the orientation of photons. Most starlight is unpolarised, but processes that involve asymmetric scattering or large magnetic fields polarise light. By studying polarisation we can learn about the atmospheres of stars and planets and their immediate environments, or even free-floating dust in space and interstellar magnetic fields. At UNSW we are pioneering the use of ferro-electric crystals as polarimetric modulators. These devices allow us to beat the effects of atmospheric turbulence and measure the polarisation of stars to unprecedented levels. We have two instruments – one we use on Australia’s largest optical telescope, and another we use at UNSW’s Kensington Campus. A student working with our group will have the opportunity to get hands-on, taking data with the telescope and instrument on campus. They will also develop/employ computer code to analyse and interpret the data in collaboration with other group members.


Dr. Julian Berengut

Calculating unknown spectra of superheavy elements

The study of the superheavy elements (nuclear charge Z > 100) is an important multidisciplinary area of research involving nuclear physics, atomic physics, and chemistry. Calculations of the atomic spectra are needed for planning and interpreting measurements; these involve understanding the role of quantum electrodynamic and many-body effects. Our group has developed high precision computer codes for atomic calculations. A student should use these codes to perform calculations of atomic properties to help guide experimental efforts.

A strong interest in theoretical physics and numerical calculations is essential for this project.


Associate Professor Sarah Brough

My projects involve analysing how the properties of galaxies depend on their environment using observations taken from the Galaxy And Mass Assembly survey of 300,000 galaxies.  The goal is to understand the interplay between galaxy properties, their mass and their environment to understand how environment is affecting how galaxies change over time. The students will use/develop basic python skills to analyse the data.


Associate Professor Dimi Culcer

Quantum computing

Quantum computation focuses on using quantum bits to encode information. Unlike classical bits, which can be either 0 or 1, quantum bits exploit the superposition principle and can be in any combination of 0 and 1, which can make computation considerably faster and open new avenues that are inaccessible with classical bits. The two key problems facing the community at present are increasing the lifetimes of quantum bits (coherence), which determines how long quantum information can be stored, and devising ways to couple two or more bits so that complex operations can be performed in practice (entanglement). The research projects will focus on these two phenomena, devising novel strategies to beat decoherence mechanisms and to control interactions between quantum bits.


Topological quantum matter

In recent years a large number of physical phenomena have been ascribed to topological mechanisms, in which the curvature of the eigenspace of the system plays a vital role in determining the robust quantisation of response functions. These phenomena are so widespread nowadays that the 2016 Nobel Prize was awarded to three scientists who revealed their topological nature, and the Australian Research Council has established the Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies to investigate topological materials and effects. The research projects will focus on establishing the role of topological terms in the response functions of a series of newly discovered materials, including topological insulators, Weyl semimetals, and transition metal dichalcogenides. 


Dr. Maria Cunningham 

What can molecules in space tell us about how stars form?

The processes surrounding the births and deaths of stars, particularly massive stars, drive the evolution of galaxies. However, the physics that underpins star formation is not well understood. In this project, we look at how we can use molecules in the interstellar medium to find regions of gas with different physical processes occurring, to help us understand how stars form. There is an opportunity to learn some Python programming during this project, for interested students.


Dr Emanuela Dimastrogiovanni

I am offering projects in theoretical cosmology. Keywords include: inflation, reheating, primordial gravitational waves, cosmic microwave background, large scale structure, dark energy. Project may involve analytical and/or numerical calculations.


Dr. Jan Hamann

I am offering projects in theoretical cosmology.  Possible topics include cosmic inflation, Big Bang Nucleosynthesis, the cosmic microwave background or the formation of the Universe’s large scale structures.  Depending on your interests, the projects will involve a literature review, and analytic calculations or a bit of numerical work.


Professor Alex Hamilton

ARC Centre of Excellence for Future Low Energy Electronics Technologies

I am offering research projects in experimental condensed matter physics. The main theme is to study how the quantum mechanical spin of electrons in semiconductors affects their motion, through the relatavistic spin-orbit interaction. Potential topics include: (i) measuring the quantum Hall effect in two-dimensional systems, (ii) studying quantum transport of holes in one-dimensional nanowires, (iiii) measuring single hole transport in quantum dots, and (iv) developing new nanofabrication techniques. These projects will be rather "hands-on", with students working with researchers in our group to perform experiments themselves, taking their own data, and in some cases handling liquid cryogens and helium refrigerators.


Dr. Sarah Martell

My research group works in the area of "Galactic archaeology" - using the present-day abundances and motions of large numbers of stars in the Milky Way to investigate its history and evolution. We use data from large spectroscopic and kinematic surveys for projects that include mapping the stellar compositions in the Galactic disk, modelling the migration of stars through the disk, and identifying stars that have been captured from other galaxies.


Associate Professor Dane McCamey

Coherent spin manipulation and control of organic electronics

(ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science)

Coherent quantum effects are usually associated with extremely low temperature, making widespread technological applications difficult. Projects in the Centre for Exciton Science will investigate organic semiconductors, a class of material which exhibit quantum coherence in devices operating at room temperature. Projects may involve activities ranging from device design and fabrication in an oxygen free environment, to developing experimental systems for room temperature coherent control of spin states. The goal is to perform electrically or optically detected spin resonance experiments on a range of organic molecules, thereby increasing our understanding of spin coherence in these materials. Students interested in this area are encouraged to contact Dane to design a project that fits their interest and skills.


Spin based spectroscopy of light harvesting and modifying materials

(ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science)

The interaction of light with molecules leads to the formation of excitons. Projects in the Centre for Exciton Science will investigate molecular and nanoscale systems that allow engineering of the light spectrum via a range of spin dependent exciton interactions. Projects may involve activities ranging from device design and fabrication in an oxygen free environment, to developing experimental systems for optically exciting and measuring the influence of spin in these novel materials. The goal is to increase our understanding of electronic processes which can improve the efficient conversion of light into charge, and therefore improve energy generation in photovoltaic materials. Students interested in this area are encouraged to contact Dane to design a project that fits their interest and skills.


Dr. Peter Reece

Manipulating nanoparticles with holographic optical tweezers

Optical tweezers use the momentum carrying properties of light to confine and manipulate nanometre- and micrometre-scaled objects at the focus of a high magnification microscope objective lens. Combining optical tweezers with holographic techniques allows for the direct manipulation of multiple trapped objects in three dimensions. In this project you will create digital holograms for the purpose of manipulating nanoparticles in amusing ways. Along the way you will (hopefully) learn about optical tweezers, adaptive optics, Fourier optics, holography and nanoparticle physics.


Associate Professor Rajib Rahman

My projects involve simulation of silicon quantum computing hardware using a set of computational tools that I have developed over the years. The goal is to model novel quantum phenomena observed in experiments, optimize design and operation of quantum bits, and to propose new quantum systems. I am also interested to simulate and understand current flow in quantum materials and nanoscale devices. The students will be provided a set of tutorials at the beginning to understand the problems and to gain expertise with the computational tools. Then a research topic of mutual interest will be chosen from a list of topics on quantum matter and computing.


Scientia Professor Sven Rogge

In this project students will work with state-of-the-art FinFET nano-transistors, which have been recently utilised in high-performance and mobile-application processors by major manufactures, e.g. Intel 14nm technology. You will hands-on understand the working of such an ultra-scaled device in its conventional setting and the link to silicon-based quantum-computation where we utilise single-electron tunneling to read out single-atom quantum bits. The project will give you insight into modern device-physics, ultra-low noise measurements, and quantum information processing. The work will be carried out in the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology at the School of Physics.


Professor Steven Sherwood

Atmospheric convection modelling and observation

(Climate Change Research Centre (CCRC), ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes)

Convection in the atmosphere is a high-Reynolds-number chaotic flow, complicated by phase changes of water which lead to localised heating and drag forces.  We use explicit numerical simulations to explore its behaviour in idealised settings so as to develop and test better convection models that can be used to more accurately determine it’s role in weather and climate changes including extreme rainfall.  We also simulate realistic situations to better interpret observations, and explore the global implications of convective behaviour.  Student projects are possible that involve working with big data, machine learning, development and testing of simple theoretical models, and examination of satellite, radar and/or other meteorological observations.  Note that other staff in the CCRC may also be available to supervise projects in other areas of environmental physics such as ocean, land surface or larger-scale geophysical fluid dynamics.


Dr Michael Schmidt

Particle physics describes physics at the shortest length scales and has intriguing connections to the early Universe. I am working on a range of topics in physics beyond the Standard Model including neutrino mass generation, dark matter, flavour physics, as well as supersymmetric and scale-invariant models. I offer projects in the general area of theoretical particle physics. Contact me to discuss possible projects.


Scientia Professor Michelle Simmons


Project 1 – Developing high fidelity Read-out of a Multi-Qubit system

Supervisors: Professor M. Y. Simmons; Dr. M. House, Dr. J. Keizer and Mr P. Gregory-Singh


To design and test a hardware qubit control platform with a novel algorithm to generate and receive multiplexed Radiofrequency (RF) signals used to perform dispersive readout of a multi-qubit device. 


The student will be involved in modifying the existing code for a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) development platform and transceiver development card to generate a frequency multiplexed signal for a 10-qubit system.  The signal will be received and processed using a bank of digital filters to output a single in-phase (I) and quadrature (Q) data point for each qubit frequency i.e. 10 qubits => 10 frequencies => 10 filters => 10 IQ datapoints.


1.     The student will become familiar in high frequency control of qubit states, in particular becoming familiar with FPGA devices; the advantages and disadvantages of using them as compared to Configurable Programmable Logic Devices (CPLDs), Digital Signal Processors (DSPs), Microprocessors, Application Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs) etc.

2.     The student will be able to determine the difference in how to read-out qubit states and compare two different types of semiconductor qubits: single spin qubits and more complex singlet-triplet qubits.

3.     The student will understand the need for cryogenic measurements

4.     The student will generate spin read-out data for a multiplexed 10 qubit chip


Project 2 – Optimising high speed single spin qubit read-out

Supervisors: Professor M. Y. Simmons; Dr. M. House, Dr. J. Keizer and Mr P. Gregory-Singh


To optimise the speed and efficiency of spin qubit read-out using a new hardware-software platform. Here the student will generate a digital feedback function capable of determining the optimal location of spin read-out and controlling the qubit at this point.


The student will use existing hardware to output waveforms and acquire the simulated response signal of a sensitive spin detector.  Control software will be written to adjust the output waveform so that a voltage ramp across the detection peak will be centred at the optimal location.  A similar edge align function will also be written which can detect the edge of a charge transition and adjust the output waveforms accordingly.


1.     The student will understand the physical process underlying the read-out of spin qubits

2.     The student will become familiar with device stability and the reason for alignment

3.     The student will be able to determine the difference in how to read-out qubit states and compare two different types of semiconductor qubits: single spin qubits and more complex singlet-triplet qubits.

4.     The student will generate two alignment functions (peakAlign and edgeAlign) which can be tested against existing qubit data.


Developing a Logical Qubit in Silicon
Supervisors: Professor Michelle Y. Simmons and Dr. M.G. House           

Quantum computation is regarded as a promising alternative to conventional silicon electronics. Whilst quantum logic operations have been already demonstrated in numerous systems including superconducting circuits, photonic qubits, quantum dot qubits and electromagnetic ion traps, few of these systems have realized a logical, error corrected qubit. Donor-spin qubits in silicon represent one of the most promising qubit types since they have extremely long coherence times with very high fidelities. Silicon based quantum computers also have an additional advantage as they employ the well-developed processing technologies of the semiconductor IT industry.

In this project within the Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology you will work to design a logical qubit architecture in silicon This work will comprise multiple physical qubits atomically engineered for spin initialization, control and single shot spin read-out. Devices will be made in a full silicon CMOS cleanroom with the manipulation of individual donors performed using scanning probe lithography. The nanofabricated gates and microwave magnetic field allow for spin control and readout. Measurements are done at cryogenic temperatures to provide high spin coherence. These results build on the recently demonstrated coupled donor qubits [1] and represent the absolute latest benchmark in silicon based quantum computing [2]. Whilst ambitious the goal of achieving a logical qubit will maintain international leadership in this field.

[1] B. Weber et al., Nature Nanotechnology 9, 430 (2014).
[2] C. Hill et al., to appear in Science Advances (2015).


Engineering donor molecules for silicon quantum computing
Supervisors: Professor Michelle Y. Simmons and Dr Joris Keizer

Current proposals for donor based scalable quantum computing require a method of coherent transport of qubit states. One method for achieving coherent transport is to use a spin bus which consists of a 1D array of strongly exchanged coupled electrons. For donor-based spin buses, the exchange coupling J needs to be much greater than the hyperfine coupling to remove the influence of the nuclear spins on the spin bus.  The required exchange coupling can be estimated to be ~10GHz which corresponds to a much smaller inter-donor distance than the system needed to perform a two qubit gate (~100 MHz).

We propose to study strongly coupled donor molecules for the purpose of scaling up to a spin bus. We will design donor molecules with varying inter-donor distances [1] and plan to perform the following experiments:

  • Measurement of the spin relaxation times of the first electron bound to the donor molecule. In this system we expect the spin relaxation times to be much longer than for single donors [2].
  • Measurement of the S-T splitting (J) of the 2 electron state on the donor molecule and characterisation of this splitting as a function of inter-donor distance. Readout of singlet-triplet states of the donor molecule and the measurement relaxation times.

The project will involve the design and fabrication of a donor based qubit device using scanning tunnelling microscopy to precisely place single phosphorus atoms and electrical measurement at cryogenic temperatures.

[1]   B. Weber, T.H. Matthias Tan, S. Mahapatra, T.F. Watson, H. Ryu, R. Rahman, L.C.L. Hollenberg, G. Klimeck and M.Y. Simmons, “Spin blockade in coulomb confined silicon double quantum dots”, Nature Nanotechnology 9, 430 (2014).
[2] Y. Hsueh, H. Buch, Y. Tan, Y. Wang, L. C. L. Hollenberg, G. Klimeck, M. Y. Simmons and R. Rahman, “Spin-lattice relaxation times of single donors and donor clusters in silicon”, Physical Review Letters 113, 246406  (2014).


Spin control of a precision qubit in silicon
Prof. Michelle Simmons and Dr. Sam Gorman

The Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology has developed a complete technology for fabricating semiconductor devices at the atomic scale. We have recently refined this technology to the point where we can make transistors in which the active area of the device is a single phosphorus atom [1]. This ability puts us in a unique position to be able to advance the science and technology of quantum computation, which requires precise control over individual quantum states of matter. We are researching the use of the quantum spin state of an electron to serve as a quantum bit (or “qubit”) for a future quantum computer. So far we have demonstrated the abilities to place single phosphorus atoms into a silicon crystal with atomic precision and to measure the spin state of a single electron at the phosphorus atom site. We are now advancing our ability to control the spin state of the electron directly.

This project will analyse data that is currently being taken for manipulating the spin state of an electron using electron spin resonance (ESR) techniques. The goal is to demonstrate full control over the spin of a single electron, and to measure its quantum coherence lifetime. The student will have the opportunity to observe several valuable experimental techniques and technologies, such as semiconductor device design and fabrication, scanning tunneling microscopy (STM), microwave electronics (>20 GHz), and low temperature measurements (< 1 K.).

[1] Fuechsle, et al., “A single-atom transistor,” Nature Nanotechnology 7, 242 (2012).


Dr. Dennis Stello

This project will fuse two rapidly developing lines of research, artificial intelligence (AI) and asteroseismology - the sounds of stars.  The rapid increase in asteroseismic data makes current -- largely manual -- analysis methods inadequate.  This bottleneck will soon be a major limit for progress when vasts amounts of time series data will flow from NASA and ESA space missions for plant detection and asteroseismology starting late 2018 and into the next decade.

The project will take advantage of recent dramatic progress made in AI such as deep learning neutral networks. AI now powers many aspects of society including speech and image recognition and web browsing, driven by software companies like Google and Microsoft.  A trial by our group has shown that AI can be used to analyse time series data fully automatically and extremely fast for asteroseismic signal detection and classification.  The project aims to test new aspects of asteroseismic analysis using AI.

Professor Oleg Sushkov

Theory of spin-orbital effects in two-dimensional semiconductor


Spin orbital effects are relativistic effects that couple spin and orbital degrees of freedom. These effects exist in nuclei, atoms, molecules, etc. Of course they exist in solid state systems too. For example the topological materials broadly discussed over the past decade are due to the spin-orbit interaction. In two-dimensional artificially engineered systems the effects can play a very important role. Usually manipulations with spins are performed using magnetic fields (NMR, MRI, ESR). The spin-orbital effects give a possibility to operate with spin using electric fields. This creates a lot of interesting possibilities for new devices. The project is about several specific spin-orbital effects. 


Dr. Kim-Vy Tran

My research group studies how galaxies form and evolve over cosmic time by combining observations from the most powerful space and ground-based telescopes.  My team connects observations of galaxies in the distant universe to understand how galaxies like our own Milky Way formed.  Taste of research projects focus on learning how to analyse high resolution imaging taken at multiple wavelengths with the Hubble Space Telescope to measure galaxy properties such as morphology, size, and luminosities.


Professor Chris Tinney

The Veloce Exoplanet Search program

 The new Veloce instrument is measuring masses for new exoplanets discovered by the NASA TESS satellite. We have programming/scripting jobs for a research student to do in developing scripts to assist in the analysis of this data.


Professor Joe Wolfe

The Acoustics lab works on the fundamental physics of the voice, and also on the physics of the musician-instrument interaction, chiefly on wind instruments. Sometimes it is possible for a student who is also a musician to do a project on some aspect of his/her instrument. It’s best if you discuss this with Joe Wolfe directly.


Associate Professor Yvonne Wong

I am a theoretical physicist working at the interface of particle physics and cosmology.  I offer projects on topics from < 10^-32 seconds to 13.8 billion years after the big bang.  Keywords include: neutrinos, axions, dark matter, dark energy, cosmic microwave background, large-scale structure of the universe, nucleosynthesis, baryogenesis.

What's involved?  In a nutshell, analytical and numerical calculations in a theoretical framework mixing general relativity, field theory, and statistical mechanics