If you are interested in pursuing physics as a career, or are considering really any field of science, undergraduate research experience is going to be essential for several reasons: it will expose you to various fields of research, and help you narrow down your interests; it will look good on your resume when applying for jobs or graduate school; etc. Currently, I am looking for undergraduates at Broward College who are interested in completing a research project in theoretical physics.
What subjects in theoretical physics?
There are four main subjects in theoretical physics that I am interested in:
- General Relativity: the modern theory of gravity, also known as Einstein gravity, which explains gravity through curvature of spacetime. I did my own undergraduate thesis on the possibility of faster than light travel in general relativity (spoiler alert: it's not possible). My main interests in general relativity lie in black hole physics, specifically: black holes as the central engines of active galactic nuclei (AGN) and the black hole information paradox. We often think about black holes as "sucking" matter in, but they are well-known to expel massive amounts of energy to power the so-called "relativistic jets" eminatting from AGN (see my Research page by clicking on the link at the top). The question is: "How do black holes release energy?" This is the essence of the central engine problem. Further, when anything falls into a black hole, it's thought to be lost forever to the outside world. If a book fell into a black hole, there'd be no way to recover that book; essentially, the information within that book is lost forever. If the Earth fell into a black hole, all knowledge of the history of humanity would be lost forever. Outside of a black hole, you could burn a book to ashes or destroy the Earth, but as long as you could gather enough information, you could always piece the history of the Earth back together or reconstruct the book. So outside of a black hole, information is never lost, but inside of a black hole, we lose information. This is the essence of the black hole information problem.
- Cosmology: the theory of the structure and evolution of the universe, from the big bang to today. My main interests in cosmology are the inflationary theory, which is a modern addition to the big bang theory to correct many of its fundamental flaws, and the nature of dark matter. Note that both of these topics are extremely mathematically complex, and would more than likely not make for a good undergraduate research project. However, this does depend on the individual.
- Quantum Mechanics: the theory of physics at the small scale (atoms or smaller). While I'm not personally pursuing any research in quantum mechanics at the time (it is a rather complete theory, as is), there are many topics in quantum mechanics that would be ideally suited for an undergraduate research project, as the theory doesn't require much math beyond differential equations to understand, and the theory covers a breadth of interesting physical phenomena.
- Jet Emission by Blazars: this is the topic of my doctoral dissertation (see my Research page by clicking on the link at the top). Blazars are a type of galaxy whose central black hole, the AGN, powers an extremely volatile plasma jet. There are many interesting aspects to this area of research, such as the structure of the magnetic field that stabilizes the jet, the physics of particle acceleration that occurs inside the jet, characteristics of light emission from the jet, etc. An added bonus to this aspect of research is that I am part of the FIU Blazar Group, which has access to telescopes and observational data on blazars, so theoretical work can be put to the test by actually observing blazar jets and looking for evidence for or against a theory.
What classes do I need to do research?
The bare minimum is going to be physics 1 and 2, calculus 1 through 3, and differential equations. With this math background, quantum mechanics and blazar jets are suitable topics for a research project. In order to get to general relativity, the math class linear algebra must also be taken. For topics in cosmology, there are no additional math classes that would help, per se, but it's an extremely difficult subject, and so extreme comfort with calculus, differential equations, and linear algebra is a must.
Earning credit for your research project
You can earn 1-3 credits for your research project (per semester; some projects might take 2 semesters to complete) by enrolling in PSC 4911 Independent Research In The Physical Sciences.
If you are still interested
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or pass by my office on Central campus, Room 7/135, if I'm in.