Student research at WWU

The Physics Department at WWU encourages majors to participate in an REU program at an off-campus location during the summer between their junior and senior years.
Learn more about the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program >

Summer Research at WWU: 2022

This summer we had only one student do a summer REU.  Here is Cameron’s report on his research:

"This summer, I worked as an REU fellow at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, SD, aiding in LUX-ZEPLIN's (LZ's) material assay campaign. The LZ experiment is a collaboration of physicists, engineers, and chemists searching for dark matter using a 7-tonne tank of liquid xenon. This dark matter detector requires a low-background environment, so the experiment is conducted a mile underground to shield it from cosmic rays. Additionally, it requires exceptionally radio-pure building materials. 

My team was responsible for determining concentrations of radioactive isotopes (U, Th, and K) within these potential building materials using gamma-ray spectroscopy. We operated four high-purity germanium crystal detectors underground and built SOLO, a fifth detector, on the Black Hills State University campus. I was responsible for assembling SOLO's electronics and housing, maintaining a clean and orderly laboratory, and developing a LabVIEW program to control the flow of liquid nitrogen within the detector chamber.

On July 7th, 2022, the LZ team released their first results, announcing that LZ is currently the most sensitive dark matter detector on earth. I hope that the LZ team will be the first to detect a dark matter particle—honored to have been part of a team making significant strides toward achieving a greater understanding of our physical world and universe."

Summer Research at WWU: 2021

Stefan spent the summer here at Walla Walla University working on the Raman Spectrometer project. We have two commercial Raman Spectrometers that are used heavily in our Nanotechnology labs. The goal of this research project is to develop a working system that is more open to upgrades.

For several years we have had students working on the hardware aspects of the project such as 3d printing mechanical parts, soldering electronic components together, etc. Stefan also is pursing a computer engineering degree so he was able to bring a valuable software focus to the project.

The main controller is a Raspberry Pi computer that communicates with three Arduino boards. These board each control an aspect of the experiment. Stefan focused on building a new communications protocol between the boards to modernize the original code from 2014.

Miranda spent the summer at the University of Michigan. The project she participated in was focused on the semiconductor GaAs. The group uses a laser to measure and manipulate the electron spins. Her specific role was to rewrite sections of the control code dealing with data storage. The University of Michigan program runs on the semester schedule and we are grateful to them for allowing Miranda to join the program a few days late after finishing her finals here.

Summer Research at WWU: 2020

The university closed to in-person classes at the end of winter quarter due to COVID-19.  The summer program and Fall 2020 are also 100% online.  Since our research projects involve building things, the summer research program is postponed for the summer.

Summer Research at WWU: 2019

This summer three students worked on undergraduate research projects here at WWU.  Felicia and Jeff worked on the Raman Spectroscopy system.  Jeff worked mostly on related coding projects.  Felicia worked on the code running on the Raspberry Pi board and on the associated control boards to make sure that each component was working properly.  In the picture below at left, most of the boards are connect in trouble-shooting mode.

Cody completed the drive system for Mossbauer spectroscopy system.  Adjustments will continue to be made before it is implemented as a lab in Modern Physics II.  In the picture below at the right, the detector is at the bottom of the picture and the drive is at the top. He then moved to a computational project to study Lattice Quantum Chromodynamics through an open source program called Chroma. 

Summer Research at WWU: 2018

This was the busiest summer in the last twenty years for student research with three projects going on.  Jeff and Heidi worked on the Raman project that was started last summer.  This summer all the 3d printed parts were completed, the circuit boards were assembled, and testing the boards was almost completed.  In the picture below at left, some of the larger parts are being printed.

Gregg worked on a Mossbauer system based on stepper motors.  As stepper motors have become cheap and easy to use we are incorporating them into more projects.  In the picture below at right, the test jig is shown.  Brigette worked on a spherical harmonic project using soap bubbles.

Summer Research at WWU: 2017

Jeff Peters, physics graduate and now secondary education masters student, worked this summer at WWU on two different projects involving Raman Spectroscopy.  In the first project, he worked on methods of isolating carbon nanotubes (both single and multi-walled) so that we can get a good Raman spectra from them.  In the picture below at the left, the data from two different suspensions is shown.


In the second project, he worked on building a Raman spectrometer. There are a number of vendors which sell Raman systems but several DIY versions have been posted to the internet in the last few years. The physics department bought the equipment to build one about a year ago and several students have worked on it since then.  Jeff spent a portion of the summer 3d-printing housing parts.  In the picture below at the right, they are the black pieces.   

Research at WWU: 2016

Alina Bylard, a physics and engineering major, has been working on a project with Dr. Ekkens during the past two school years.  Initially, she worked on building and testing solar cells.  This year she focused on incorporating carbon nanotubes as part of the build process.

Summer Research at WWU: 2015

Spencer Thorp continued work on Dr. Liebrand's solar project of adding water heating coils to a solar panel.  In the picture, the solar panel is underneath and the water fittings are on top and on the near side.

Summer Research at WWU: 2014

Rebekah Hawkins worked with Dr. Campbell on a her summer research project studying the dynamics of the alanine dipeptide molecule. The study of this simple biomolecule should shed light on the general problem of protein folding.  Techniques and methods learned during this study will be used to study larger polypeptides and proteins.  Rebekah gave a poster on her work at the Murdock Undergraduate Research Conference and at the LIGO Laser Symposium.