Research Projects for Undergraduates

The Washington University Physics Department hosts strong research groups in the fields of Astrophysics, Biophysics, Condensed Matter Physics, Materials, Medical Physics, Nuclear Physics, Particle Physics, and Space Materials. All undergraduate students are strongly encouraged to take advantage of the presence of these research groups and to participate in the cutting-edge research that is carried through at the department. Engaging actively in research as an undergraduate student is highly recommended for students planning to do a PhD in Physics or in another science.

Undergraduate students are invited to participate in research at all levels of the undergraduate career. Active involvement in research at an early stage (freshman and sophomore standing) will broaden your perspective of how physics research actually works. Research at the junior and senior level is highly encouraged so that students can apply the techniques they have studied in their physics classes. The research can be carried through while classes are in session, or, during the summer. It can count for credit after approval of an advising professor (enroll in Physics N41or N42 where N is your year in college), or alternatively, can be rewarded with an hourly salary. Most professors welcome students interested in doing research for one semester or several semesters. Please note that research requires a substantial time investment. Students interested in doing research while classes are in session should set aside between 6 and 12 hours per week for the research. Summer research usually takes as much time as a full-time job (40 hrs per week) or a half-time job (20 hours per week). Students in their senior year are encouraged to do a senior thesis or a honors thesis (the latter requires a projected >3.65 GPA). Usually, professors ask their advisees to summarize their research findings in a report, and/or to report the results on a conference or in a Physics journal.

How do you find the research group which is right for you? As a starting point, please investigate the research descriptions on the departmental research web site. The next step is either to directly contact professors whose research interests you, or to schedule a meeting with Professor Francesc Ferrer who can advise you about research opportunities that match your interests. Eventually, all students wishing to do a research project have to make one-on-one contact with the advising professor. You should contact the professor by email and ask for a meeting to discuss possible research projects. A good preparation for this meeting is to read about the professor’s research on the world-wide web, and to bring a resume and/or a list of courses completed along with any relevant skills.

Information about fellowships supporting research can be found here. It is advisable to begin working as a volunteer and, once established, ask about pay or academic credits.