Student Research Projects and Ideas

Please feel free to view our list of actual projects.  When possible, the final report is provided.  Below is a list of ideas proposed by alumni and friends. If you would like to volunteer to review proposals and provide advice (or financial support) for any of the projects listed, or if you have an idea for a student project, please email any physics faculty.

Actual Projects
Completion of the senior research project is required for the physics degree. Any project starts with 1-hour "proposal" course, during which students decide  how  the project would work, followed by a 2-hour "project" course, during which students actually carry out the proposal.

Proposed Projects.  Projects are subject to funding. 

Proposed Project:
Increased efficiency of tungsten lamps.  Much heat energy is lost through thermal radiation.  Consider coupling a thoria gas mantle to a tungsten filament.  As is well known, the thorium salt, when heated, becomes a black emitter in the visible spectrum while remaining white in the IR.  The association between the filament and the thoria must be such that the net thermal radiation to the environment is reduced to improve lamp efficiency. 
There is a patent possibility here.
Estimate the thickness of the earth's atmosphere by measuring the blue light scattering from small thicknesses of the earth's atmosphere.  The cell of known thickness could be the light scattered in the path to an open barn door (black background) located at a distance of say a 100 meters or the few millimeter sized cross over of the rays from a  convex lens imaging the sun.  The challenge here is probably relating the measured scattering in the cell to that of the sky. I wonder if early scientists had done this study?
Build a moving vane (Crookes) radiometer in which the centers of the vanes have been removed, observe the increased speed of rotation, and  predict  the speed.  I myself made some assumptions on a conventional radiometer and predicted within a factor of two of the measured speed.  (It is well known the driving force to the radiometer blades comes only from a region near the edges of the blades, thus with the centers removed, the speed should increase significantly). 
Hint: viscous damping can be measured by the spin-down time of the radiometer in the dark.  I can provide  references.
Verify  the equations and construct a sun dial where the direction of North need not be known to get the time. It is said that  shepherds used crude sundials of this sort up to a hundred years ago.  It is called a pillar dial.  One gets a significant appreciation of the geometry of the sun and earth in verifying the equations.  Excel works nicely in laying out the dial.
Fuse the nuclei of atoms using inertial electrostatic confinement with the concomitant production of neutrons.  (Farnsworth, a  television inventor, holds a patent of this technology). Devise a way to avoid the energy loss at the electrodes so that the efficiency is increased.
Build a Hilch vortex tube  and try to explain its operation.   No one has explained its operation to my satisfaction. The one I built can make frost on the cold side. Can such a device be used for isotope separation?
Build a gold leaf electrometer, explain how it operates, and compute the divergence of the leafs vs. voltage.  Like charges repel, right?  But aren't the charges on the outsides of the closed leafs?  And don't the electrically conducting leafs shield the charges from one another so that no force results? I posed this question to a number of my Ph.D. friends, but they couldn't come close.   I think I know the answer, but haven't seen it written up.
Compute the requirements of a pinhole lens that would be capable of resolving the transit of venus across the sun.  Verify that the optics would work by placing a simulated target in the direction of the sun.  As an option, take a picture of the resulting image. Go through the calculations that led early astronomers to compute the scale of the solar system by measuring transit times at different latitudes.  (Clocks at that time could only measure differences accurately).
Construct a loaded string, measure the eigen frequencies,  compute them, and compare the results. This I did as an undergraduate.  It is a good math exercise that can lead to some understanding of quantum mechanical calculations.