Undergraduates in physics are involved in laboratories at levels that range from assisting a graduate student or postdoctoral fellow with their respective project to running their own research project. In both cases the work may even lead to a publication in a scientific journal. Typically, assistance involves data analysis, programming laboratory equipment, and help with sample preparation and data collection and is the route followed for stays of one year or less in a laboratory. Independent projects, which often occur during the second of a two year stay in a laboratory, involve both independent work that is relevant to the mission of the laboratory or trying out "a crazy idea" that just may work. Below is a sampling of faculty research that undergrads can get involved in!

If you secure an opportunity with a faculty member and want to earn units for your work via Special Studies course PHYS 99 or PHYS 199, click here and begin at step 2B. If you would like to earn units via Special Studies course PHYS 199H (Physics Honors Thesis Program) click here and begin filling out your application.

For all Special Studies courses, keep the following in mind:

  • If you want to work under a non-physics faculty, sign up for Special Studies courses in your faculty member’s department.
  • A single 4-unit PHYS 199 or PHYS 199H can be applied as a restricted elective for your physics major.
  • PHYS 99s are available for 2 units, only, andyou must commit to at least 6 hours of work per week.
  • PHYS 199s are available for 2, 3, or 4 units and you must commit to ate least 6, 9, or 12 hours of work per week, respectively.
  • Honors Thesis Projects include 4-unit 199Hs (12 hours of work per week each term). The application packet includes the 199H form.
  • Special Studies forms/applications must be submitted to Mayer Hall Addition 2581 no later than NOON on Wednesday of week 1 in the term you hope to enroll. We will no longer accept late requests.

Research Opportunities

Henry Abarbanel
Biophysics, Geophysics, Physics
Understanding and using the information in quantitative measurements in Physics, geophysics, and biophysics requires a systematic method for improving models of these physical systems. We have developed this using algorithms based on undergraduate Physics courses. The work in our group requires some knowledge of programming for scientific computing; for example, the material in mathematical physics, PHYS 105A-B, or in PHYS 100A-B or PHYS 130A-B-C would be quite helpful. Undergraduate students work closely with graduate students to address both new methods and new problems in these areas.
Kam Arnold & Brian Keating
Dr. Arnold's research focuses on measurement of the intensity and polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). His future plans include developing technology for the next generation of detectors/telescopes. Dr. Keating and his team develop instrumentation to study the early universe at radio, microwave and infrared wavelengths. Dr. Keating and Dr. Arnold co-host UCSDs Cosmology Research group.
Richard Averitt
Materials Physics
In the Averitt Lab, students use lasers to investigate and control the properties of materials. The lasers used produce pulses that are nearly a million times faster than existing computers. Such fantastic time resolution allows for tracking the motion of electrons in solids with exquisite precision, similar to stop-action photography. This enables understanding of the properties of materials in new and novel ways. Even more exciting, these lasers are used to control the properties of materials, turning insulators into metals, non-magnets into magnets, and ordinary conductors into superconductors. Over the years, we have had numerous undergraduates participate in these studies, providing hands-on experience with state-of-the-art research at the forefront of what is possible in the 21st century.
Julio Barreiro
Quantum Physics, Quantum Computing
The Barreiro Lab is building two ultracold Strontium experiments aimed at (i) creating new states of matter and realizing a (fermionic) quantum computer and (ii) realizing quantum sensors for fundamental physics and applications. Undergrads are typically expected to have programming experience and prior completion of PHYS 100A-B-C.
Adam Burgasser
The Cool Star Lab led by Prof. Adam Burgasser uses astronomical observatories to investigate the lowest-mass stars and extrasolar planets. Undergraduate researchers in the lab analyze spectra and light curves across the electromagnetic spectrum to learn more about the physical properties and evolution of these celestial objects.
Alison Coil
Alison Coil is an observational astrophysicist who studies how galaxies change across cosmic time.  She uses the largest ground-based telescopes in the world, including the Keck Telescopes on the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii, as time machines to peer back into the early Universe and observe what galaxies were like billions of years ago. She studies the large-scale distribution of galaxies in space, their accreting supermassive black holes, and outflowing galactic winds.
Massimo Di Ventra
Computational Physics
Dr. Di Ventra's current research aims at developing a new physics-based computing paradigm, named memcomputing, to tackle hard problems efficiently. This paradigm is based on dynamical systems with memory. Possible research includes the study of the transient and equilibrium properties of these dynamical systems, their phase space and the physical correlations that lead to efficient computation.
Patrick Diamond
Fusion, Astrophysics, Plasma Physics
"The Fusion and Astrophysical Plasma Physics Group led by Patrick H Diamond, focuses on theoretical problems related to nonlinear dynamics and turbulence in magnetically confined plasmas and in cosmic plasmas. Research topics for undergrads include nonlinear evolution of drift waves, structure formation in turbulence-especially mesoscopic plasma flows, self-organization of profiles, cosmic ray acceleration, and magnetic dynamos.Work typically involves a mix of analytical theory and computation. Highly motivated and well qualified undergrad students are welcome.
Michael Fogler
Condensed Matter
Michael Fogler's research is focused on theoretical investigation of optical, electrical, and mechanical properties of new atomically thin materials such as graphene. Opportunities for undergraduate students include developing and running of numerical simulations, analytical modelling, and data analysis.
Ben Grinstein
Particle Physics
Dr. Grinstein's research is in theoretical particle physics, creating and testing mathematical models of the subatomic world of elementary particles, like quarks and the HIggs boson. One aspect of the work involves making predictions of mathematical models that can be tested in experiments at atom smashers like the huge “Large Hadron Collider” (LHC) in Geneva, Switzerland. The UGs Dr. Grinstein is currently mentoring start by learning the basics of particle physics. Then he asks them to use particle physics software tools (eg, Madgraph) to compute and analyze rates of collisions at the LHC, or other future colliders, to test the validity off the model.
Tarun Grover
Quantum Physics
Tarun Glover research revolves around universal properties of quantum mechanical systems. He asks questions such as: What is the nature of entanglement at low temperature in materials? What is quantum chaos and how can one measure it experimentally? How can one exploit quantum mechanics to make faster computers?
Elizabeth Jenkins
High Energy Physics
Dr. Jenkins' field of high-energy theory doesn’t lend itself to undergraduate research. Students interested in this area are encouraged to take advanced coursework and to work in an experimental high-energy lab if hoping to gain lab experience.
Suckjoon Jun
Dr. Jun's lab studies fundamental quantitative principles underlying how one cell becomes two cells. They take multidisciplinary approaches including microscopy, microfluidics, molecular biology, and mathematical modeling. We typically have several undergraduate students working on research problems with graduate students and post-docs in the lab on microscopy, image analysis, and E. coli genetics. Our undergraduate students stay at least two years in the lab, and most of them go to top graduate schools.
Elena Koslover
The Koslover group uses theory and computational modeling to explore the uniquely complex physical environment within living cells. They study the transport of organelles throughout the cell, the dynamics of reactions confined in complex cellular structures, and the mechanics of cytoskeletal filaments and their networks. Students in the Koslover group develop and solve mathematical models, extract quantitative parameters from live imaging data provided by collaborating groups, and write software for efficiently simulating cellular processes.
Brian Maple
Materials Physics
Research in Brian Maple's lab involves the preparation of novel materials and the study of their properties as a function of temperature, magnetic field, and pressure. These materials exhibit phenomena of great fundamental interest that are not well understood, and Many of these materials may have potential for applications in technology. Phenomena we investigate include superconductivity (where the electrical resistance vanishes below a certain temperature called the superconducting critical temperature), magnetism, quantum critical behavior, thermoelectricity, topological phenomena, etc.
John McGreevy
Quantum Physics
Professor McGreevy's current research centers on the study and application of quantum field theory, both in condensed matter physics and in high energy physics. Occasionally this involves projects which are appropriate for undergraduates. Such projects typically involve small-scale numerical simulations.
Kaixuan Ni
Particle Physics
In our group, we develop sensitive detectors to search for dark matter at a deep underground laboratory. The undergraduate students can work on various aspects from developing data analysis tools to improve and understand the dark matter detector, to designing and testing prototype detectors for the next generation experiment. They can also work on engineering related tasks such as readout and control of instruments and electric field simulation with finite element tools.
Karin Sandstrom
Dr. Sandstrom studies the interstellar medium and star formation in nearby galaxies using a wide range of multi-wavelength observations. Undergraduates in her lab analyze multwavelength observations from telescopes like Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel, and the VLA to study the distribution and properties of dust in nearby galaxies. With such observations, we hope to learn how interstellar dust is produced, destroyed and altered in the interstellar medium and how that influences the process of star formation.
Cliff Surko
Plasma Physics
Experimental atomic and plasma studies using the antiparticle of the electron, the positron. The work is done in laboratories in the Mayer Hall physics building. Undergraduate students can assist in many ways including helping design and build apparatus, interface computers to experiments, and analyze data.
David Tytler
Computational Astrophysics
David Tytler works with supercomputers to simulate the gas between galaxies, to understand how it is heated and distributed in space. He also designs optical instruments, from the small to huge telescopes.
Shelley Wright
In 2016-17, and again in 2017-18 the CASS Optical and Infrared lab group filled student observing positions for astronomical observations using the 1-m telescope at Lick Observatory. The student was employed by the lab to conduct observations 2-3 times per month for the near-infrared SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) observing campaign. Observations were conducted all night in the remote observing facility in the Science Engineering Research Facility (SERF) at UCSD, weather permitting. The group looked for a motivated student who was interested in learning more about observational astronomy, using telescopes, and learning about SETI. In each year, the position was filled by an junior-level physics major specializing in astrophysics.
Frank Wuerthwein & Avi Yagil
Particle Physics
Wuerthwein & Yagil’s groups mainly work on analyzing data from the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), in Geneva, Switzerland. They also develop advance software algorithms and computing infrastructure towards the upgrade of the experiment for high luminosity running of the LHC.