Undergrad USRA Projects 2019

(This is a partial list. Faculty members who are not listed here might also be interested in supervising students; please contact them directly.)

 More 2019 Summer USRA projects will be posted soon. Please check back later.

1. Super-rotors

Contact: Dr. V. Milner (vmilner@phas.ubc.ca; webpage: http://coherentcontrol.sites.olt.ubc.ca/)

(Note: Dr. Milner might not have funding to confirm the hiring until April, so if you are interested in the project anyway, please list it as your 3rd choice)

Our research group on Quantum Coherent Control uses ultrafast lasers to control and study the behaviour of molecules and their interaction with classical and quantum environments, e.g. beams of light, external magnetic fields or ensembles of other molecules. We are currently actively investigating new exotic molecular objects – the so-called molecular "super-rotors", produced in our laboratory using a unique laser system known as an "optical centrifuge". The centrifuge spins up molecules to extremely fast rotational frequencies, inaccessible through any other means of rotational excitation. Many fascinating properties of molecular super-rotors have been theoretically predicted. A few of them have been shown by our group in the last two years, but many more await discovery. In the summer of 2019, we will be working on: (1) the investigation of molecular super-rotors embedded in the quantum nano-droplets of superfluid helium; and (2) the prospect of creating chiral super-rotors, i.e. ultrafast spinning chiral molecules.

2. The Hyper-Kamiokande Experiment

Contact: Dr. Scott Oser (oser@phas.ubc.ca) and Dr. Patrick de Perio (pdeperio@triumf.ca)

Neutrino oscillation is the only observed phenomenon beyond the Standard Model (SM) of particle physics and may potentially explain why we live in a matter- instead of antimatter-dominated universe. The Japan-based T2K and Super-Kamiokande (Super-K) experiments, and the future next-generation Hyper-Kamiokande (Hyper-K) experiment, are powerful tools for exploring neutrino oscillations, as well as other phenomena such as proton decay testing Grand Unified Theories, supernovae and other multi-messenger astronomical events, and dark matter. As part of the Hyper-K program, the NuPRISM (E61) near-detector aims to maximize the sensitivity on all topics.

The student will work with the UBC/TRIUMF neutrino group, and may choose from one or more of the following projects:

  • The development and characterization of a new type of single photon detector for NuPRISM: a multi-photomultiplier tube (mPMT) module including an array of 3" PMTs inside a transparent pressure vessel with digitizing electronics. These tests involve operating a remote motor-controlled 3D gantry system equipped with lasers and monitor PMTs for characterizing the response of the mPMT, and analysis of the resulting data.
  • Provide readout and commissioning for NuPRISM prototype electronics. The student would help characterize all aspects of the electronics and confirm that we have met the design requirements, including minimum timing and charge resolution, and limits on cost and power dissipation. FPGA experience would be helpful with the design of the electronics firmware.
  • Development of a new machine/deep learning technique to exploit the higher resolution of the 3” PMTs compared to the traditional 20” PMTs in Super-K, for improving particle identification and event reconstruction performance.
  • A precise knowledge of the relative positioning of all the PMTs in a detector is necessary to achieve accurate reconstruction of a particle’s energy and direction. The student will be involved in developing a photogrammetry technique with software that analyzes high-resolution photos of the inside of a detector. The technique can be tested in a lab setting in air, in the UBC swimming pool, and the Super-K detector, towards defining a photogrammetry program for the NuPRISM and Hyper-K detectors.
  • The EMPHATIC hadron production experiment aims to directly measure the hadron­-nucleus interaction processes that produce neutrinos in the atmosphere or a neutrino beamline, to make precision neutrino flux predictions.

    3. Quantum Optical Source Development

    Contact: Dr. Jeff Young (young@phas.ubc.ca)

    Our group is developing sources of single photons that can be generated on-demand within silicon photon circuits fabricated on silicon wafers similar to those used in the semiconductor chip industry.  These single photon sources will be used in conjunction with single photon detectors we have already developed, to carry out quantum information processing functions using optimal means of encoding and decoding the information.  The project will involve working with a number of sources and spectrometer systems to characterize the emission properties of impurity centres in silicon.

    4. Machine Learning and Statistical Mechanics

    Contact: Dr. Moshe Rozali

    Machine learning shows much promise as a tool in analyzing many-body systems. For example, neural networks have been trained to identify the phases of simple spin chains. In turn, the effectiveness of such analyses is an important benchmark on the resources used by neural networks, shedding light on how neural networks store and process information. In the suggested project we will look at simple examples of neural networks performing physics computations. We will use these results to study the capacity of neural networks and the relationship with network architecture and depth.

    5. CHIME

    Contact - Mark Halpern and Gary Hinshaw    Email - halper@phas.ubc.ca, hinshaw@phas.ubc.ca

    We are building a novel radio telescope designed to measure the recent dark energy-driven acceleration of the expansion of the Universe.  It is called CHIME, the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment and it consists of radio interferometers sitting along the focal lines of large cylindrical reflectors.  The instrument, which has no moving parts, will map half the sky as the Earth turns.

    CHIME is fully assembled and the team is commissioning it and getting a first look at the data.  A student joining the team would help look at data and could also work at the site testing and optimizing aspects of instrument performance.  High performance computing skills and electronics skills would be assets.

    6. CGEM

    Contact - Mark Halpern and Gary Hinshaw    Email - halpern@phas.ubc.ca, hinshaw@phas.ubc.ca

    Our group is starting to construct the Canadian Galactic Emission Mapper (CGEM) to map the northern sky at 10 GHz with ~0.5 degree angular resolution for the purposes of measuring the polarized synchrotron emission in our galaxy.  These data will be used to aid in modelling foreground emission for cosmic microwave background (CMB) polarization studies, and for better understanding interstellar structure in the Milky Way.  The student will have the opportunity to develop CGEM hardware and/or software and some travel to the observatory site in Penticton BC will be possible.  

    7. Evaluating the risks of human-induced asteroid impacts

    Contact - Aaron Boley    Email - acboley@phas.ubc.ca

    Asteroid mining is a near-future prospect for in situ resource utilization, scientific discovery, and a new space commerce.  While such resource extraction carries significant promise for expanding deep space activity, there are also considerable risks.  For example, extracting even a few percent of mass from an asteroid could alter its trajectory and lead to a human-induced asteroid impact.  The purpose of the proposed work is to evaluate which asteroids of interest would pose considerable mining risks and to determine to what extent limited extraction is possible.  The results will ultimately be used in collaboration with political scientists to construct a model international legal framework for space mining.

    8. Plotkin Research Group

    Contact: Steve Plotkin    Email: steve@phas.ubc.ca

    Job Description:

    My laboratory has recently undertaken a project in evolutionary developmental biology involving the origins of animal multicellularity. For this purpose, we are establishing a stable ctenophore system—a marine invertebrate phylogenetically placed to address this evolutionary question.

    This position will expose the student to several aspects of the research program, including the animal husbandry involved in maintaining multiple generations of a non-model organism, as well as quantifying novel phenotypes in transgenic strains by microscopy.

    The student will have the opportunity for co-authorship on publications arising from their work, and will have opportunities to present their findings at laboratory meetings and local conferences.


    • We are looking for a highly-motivated, industrious, senior student for a 4- or 8-month work-term to assist with experiments designed to elucidate the genetic innovations occurring in early multicellular animals. The work term may be subject to extension upon mutual agreement of the student and supervisor.
    • A background in embryology, physiology, cell biology, and/or molecular biology, as well as previous hands-on experience with embryos, micro-injection, molecular genetics, and animal husbandry are assets, but not necessary.
    • This work term is ideally suited for senior students with some previous lab experience, who are potentially interested in pursuing further PhD graduate training in developmental biology research. The laboratory is a highly-interactive, diverse, dynamic, intellectual and social environment. Persistence, optimism, good communication skills, and a touch of humor will go a long way towards the student’s success.

    9. Hubble Space Telescope

    Contact: Dr. Harvey Richer (richer@astro.ubc.ca); Dr. Jeremy Heyl (heyl@phas.ubc.ca)

    Project is to use Gaia and Hubble Space Telescope data to search for young and massive white dwarf stars. We are interested in the maximum mass of a white dwarf as this has implications for galactic evolution. Also on our list of interesting projects are white dwarfs with very high velocities which could have been ejected from the Milky Way galaxy via an interaction with a black hole.
    10. 13P - 1H cross polarization magnetic resonance in brain tissue
    Contact: Alex Mackay (mackay@phas.ubc.ca); Carl Michal (michal@phas.ubc.ca)
    Our goal is to develop new magnetic resonance techniques for MRI that are based upon transferring nuclear spin polarization from phosphorus nuclei in lipid bilayers to nearby hydrogen, allowing phosphorus to be detected indirectly in an MRI scanner. Ultimately we wish to develop new contrast mechanisms that are sensitive to the quantity and quality of the myelin that insulates nerve axons in brain. In this project, our experiments will focus on model compounds, phantoms, and ex-vivo brain tissue to develop methods and evaluate the feasibility of a future in-vivo implementation. 
    11. Beta-NMR experiments
    Contact: Rob Kiefl (kiefl@triumf.ca)
    To characterize and study with beta-NMR experiments on ferroelectric properties of thin STO films. Please see project details here.
    12. Quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
    Contact: Shannon Kolind (shannon.kolind@ubc.ca)
    Quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is far more reproducible and interpretable than conventional qualitative MRI. Our lab works to develop advanced MRI techniques specific to various biological components of the brain and spinal cord, such as myelin, axons, or inflammatory cells. These techniques are extremely important in the study of neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS). The goal of this summer project is to help develop and validate novel markers of disease progression based on conventional and quantitative MRI data, collected as part of a nation-wide study that aims to improve our understanding of disease progression for Canadians living with MS. This huge dataset provides a unique opportunity for creative application of image normalization, de-noising, machine learning, template creation, and other data analysis techniques. The student will also help with a related project, mapping characteristics of the healthy human brain based on quantitative MRI data. We are looking for a highly driven and motivated student who is keen to learn about and develop these widely applicable skills.
    13. Magic angle in twisted van der Waals heterostructures
    Contact: Ziliang Ye (zlye@phas.ubc.ca)
    Starting from the discovery of graphene, highly anisotropic bonds in van der Waals crystal allows us to prepare a variety of mechanically stable monolayers with only one or a few atoms in thickness. In many cases, these two-dimensional materials exhibit exotic physical properties distinct from bulk counterparts, including but not limited to relativistic particle like electrons following Dirac equation, gate-tunable Ising superconductivity, and excitons with valley degree of freedom, which enables new potentials in novel electronic and optoelectronic device application. More excitingly, these monolayers are robust to be manipulated and stacked together precisely, forming so-called van der Waals heterostructures, which opens a door to almost unlimited opportunities for new physics discovery. Recently, it has been found that unconventional superconductivity can emerge when two layers of graphene are stacked together with a small twist of ‘magic’ angle. It can be envisioned such a phenomenon should not be unique to the bilayer graphene. This summer, we welcome undergraduates to join our effort to explore this direction in low-dimensional quantum materials. Students will be exposed to a range of state-of-the-art experimental techniques from 2D materials preparation to van der Waals heterostructure fabrication to nearfield optical characterization.

    14. Data Analysis for the TREK experiment at J-PARC

    Contact - Mike Hasinoff      Email - hasinoff@physics.ubc.ca 

    The goal of our TREK experimental program is to search for New Physics beyond the Standard Model ( possibly SUSY ). We have constructed a 256 element scintillating fibre target at TRIUMF for a Kaon Decay experiment which we carried out at the J-PARC accelerator in Japan in 2015.  The successful student will help us analyze the multi-parameter event data using the CERN software package "ROOT". He/She should have some programming experience and a basic understanding of the LINUX operating system. The student will be located at TRIUMF and be able to participate in all the student activities organized by the TRIUMF summer students.

    15. Ultrafast Spectroscopy of Solids

    Contact - David Jones (djjones@phas.ubc.ca)

    We employ ultrafast photoemission and optical spectroscopy to probe underlying quantum interactions and states of solids. There are both instrumentation development and scientific experiments opportunities with specific details to follow.

    16. ATLAS Projects

    Contact: Prof. Alison Lister; Prof. Colin Gay     Email: alister@phas.ubc.ca; cgay@phas.ubc.ca

    1) Integration of ATLAS limits into Global Fits in particle and astroparticle physics
    Many different probes are sensitive to physics beyond the Standard Model (BSM): direct and indirect searches for dark matter (DM), accelerator searches, and neutrino experiments. Experiments such as CRESST, Fermi-LAT and PAMELA may even already show tantalizing hints of DM. To make robust conclusions about the overall level of support for different BSM scenarios from such varied sources, a simultaneous statistical fit of all the data, fully taking into account all relevant uncertainties, assumptions and correlations is an absolute necessity. This approach is commonly called a `global fit'. Such analyses exploit the synergy between different experimental approaches to its maximum potential.
    In this summer student project the student will integrate in a first step the latest ATLAS Run 2 results into this global-fit framework. In a second step they will perform a smaller-size global fit of a sensitive model, to see what impact their newly integrated analyses have.
    The student should already have programming skills in C++/python, an understanding of statistics and a desire to do more complex math problems is a bonus.
    2) Deep learning with ATLAS
    The ATLAS UBC group is developing new deep learning techniques for the identification of highly boosted top quarks using low level jet features. We are currently studying the performance of this method on real ATLAS data. The student will work on further improvements to the method as well as developing techniques for mitigation of the impact of the systematic uncertainties on the deep learning model through construction of purpose engineered training samples and application of adversarial training.
    Experience and familiarity with python is required.
    17. Contact: Douglas Scott (dscott@phas.ubc.ca)

    The cosmic microwave background allows us to probe the Universe on the largest length scales possible.  There are several hints or "anomalies" that may suggest modifications to physics on large scales or at very early times in the history of the Cosmos.  In order to assess if such anomalies are real or just mild statistical excursions in the data, it is necessary to find new ways to probe the large-scale Universe.  One such new probe is provided by sensitive measurements of CMB polarization, which comes from new modes in the early Universe. The latest maps of large-angle polarization have been provided by the Planck satellite.  In this project we will study aspects of sky polarization, and investigate statistical techniques that can be used to distinguish the cosmological signals and to test for deviations from statistical anisotropy.  Additional, it will be useful to assess
    the power of future (more sensitive) polarization measurement using simulations.


    There are many data analysis problems in astronomy that are best approached using simple likelihood function methods.
    However, there are other questions (involving non-linear selection tasks, or pattern-matching in huge databases) that are
    more efficiently performed with "machine-leaning" (ML) methods, such as neural networks.  One downside to the use of ML
    approaches is that it is often difficult to determine robust uncertainties on derived parameters.  Another unresolved issue is how to combine traditional and ML methods in tasks that use both approaches for different parts.  We will investigate these topics by looking at the use of ML in astronomy, combining data at multiple wavelengths to identify and categorise distant galaxies and assess their statistical properties.

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    **Project List 2019 from Imperial College London - for UBC-V students going to ICL for two-month exchange

    Note: UBC-V students will be spending two months (May - June) at UBC on another project and then go to ICL for exchange (July - Aug.) with one of the possible projects listed below.

    Imperial College London International Student Research Project Opportunities (Summer 2019)

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