Undergrad USRA Projects 2024


To find out how to apply for USRAs, visit the department's Undergraduate Summer Research Awards page.

2024 Summer project descriptions will be updated as projects are submitted. Please see previous years' projects for more information about PHAS Faculty projects.

*Students: This will be a continuously growing list. Faculty members who are not listed here might be interested in supervising USRA students; please contact them directly (listed here or not) if they are engaged in research that interests you.


1.Gravitational Wave Astronomy with LISA
Contact: Jess McIver & Scott Oser | Emails: mciver@phas.ubc.ca and oser@phas.ubc.ca

LISA is a proposed spaced-based gravitational wave detector that will consist of three spacecraft flying in an equilateral triangular configuration with a side length of 2.5 million kilometers. Each spacecraft shines a laser at the other two, and all three measure the interference between incoming and outgoing beams of light. These interferometric measurements will allow LISA to measure the miniscule modulation of the separation distances between spacecraft caused by gravitational waves produced by distant sources such as massive black holes, binary star systems, or even the aftermath of the Big Bang itself.  We will examine analysis techniques for how LISA can distinguish gravitational wave signal events ("glitches"), with a focus on signal and noise modelling.  Familiarity with Python and/or C++ is strongly preferred.  The awardee will learn signal processing, time series analysis, Fourier methods, and gain experience with applications to gravitational-wave astrophysics. 


2. Earth-Space Sustainability
Contact: Aaron Boley | Email: acboley@phas.ubc.ca 

Humanity’s rapid and accelerating expansion into space benefits society, opens pathways to scientific discoveries, and advances economic opportunities. Satellites already play vital roles in weather forecasting, food production, forest fire detection, climate science, communications, navigation, search and rescue, disaster relief, military operations, and arms control verification. There are also negative consequences, from the loss of dark and radio-quiet skies, to space debris and collision risks on orbit, casualty risks from reentering rocket bodies and satellites, and changes to the atmosphere from both launches and reentries.
These negative consequences arise because space is generally not regarded as an environment in need of protecting, nor is it seen as being closely connected to Earth’s environment. In reality, the two are so closely related that we need to speak of the Earth-Space system. Adding to the challenges, the expansion into space is driven by a handful of powerful states and large private companies who see themselves competing for national, economic, and military advantage in an “area beyond national jurisdiction” that is largely devoid of clear, widely agreed, enforceable rules. Yet the negative consequences of their actions are borne by everyone on Earth, including succeeding generations.  

Positions are available under this theme that would explore one or more of the following:
* Calculations of orbital carrying capacities
* Observations of satellites and debris
* Upper atmosphere impacts arising from spacecraft launch and reentries
* Disarmament and space weapons


3. Exoplanet Studies
Contact: Aaron Boley | Email: acboley@phas.ubc.ca 

Positions are available under this theme for conducting exoplanetary system observations and/or dynamics.

For example, planet-planet and planet-star interactions create variations in the transit times of planets. Such variations lead to observable signatures of planetary orbital evolution and offer constraints on planet formation and planetary system models. So-called Hot Jupiters, which are giant planets that orbit their host star with periods ranging from days to about two weeks, may be particularly prone to orbital evolution arising from tidal orbital decay or orbital precession, as well as apparent variations due to relative motions between Earth and the planetary system.

Tasks may include one or more of the following:
* Follow up exoplanet transit observations using Thunderbird South (the UBC Southern Observatory)
* Dynamics or hydrodynamics calculations 
* Statistical analyses of exoplanet data


4. Single-molecule investigations of competition among DNA secondary structures and consequences for biomolecular interactions
Contact: Sabrina Leslie | Email: leslielab@msl.ubc.ca | Web: https://leslielab.msl.ubc.ca/

DNA, as a long, double-stranded polymer, can take on a variety of secondary structures. Several of these structures can be induced by DNA supercoiling – how twisted the DNA is compared to its relaxed state. The total amount of supercoiling in a DNA molecule is fixed, so when there are multiple sites within a single molecule susceptible to secondary structures, the sites will compete among each other to form. 

In this project, the student will study the competition among secondary structures in a DNA molecule and compare their results to predictions from a statistical mechanics model. The student will learn how to genetically modify DNA in order to introduce new structures, and study the presence of structures using molecular biology and single-molecule microscopy techniques. Specifically, she will study the competition between two ‘unwinding sites’, regions of DNA that become single-stranded when subject to negative supercoiling.

The student will receive hands-on training and guidance from the Leslie Biophysics Research Group, including day-to-day guidance from a senior graduate student in the lab, regular meetings with the research team and principal investigator, and surrounding interdisciplinary environment at the Michael Smith Labs. Through the course of the summer, the student will hone her oral communication skills through opportunities to present at group meetings and interact at local events such as the SBME and Michael Smith Labs Summer Poster Fairs. 


5. Looking for New Physics with ATLAS Precision Measurements

Contact: Alison Lister and Colin Gay| Emails: alister@phas.ubc.ca and cgay@phas.ubc.ca | Web: https://atlas.cern/

Q: How do we learn something about new physics beyond the Standard Model (BSM) without measuring it directly? A: We look for its impact on things we can measure! The UBC ATLAS group is working to constrain new physics using precision measurements of Standard Model particles. Different hypothetical BSM particles can cause subtle changes to what we see in the detector. By putting together these measurements we can look for any anomalies that could hint at new physics.

The student will work on translating individual measurements into a combined framework, and optimizing variables to maximize sensitivity. See more information about ATLAS and new physics here.


6. Constructing Silicon Inner Tracker (ITk) for ATLAS Detector Upgrade

Contact: Alison Lister and Colin Gay| Emails: alister@phas.ubc.ca and cgay@phas.ubc.ca | Web: https://atlas.cern/

The UBC ATLAS group is among several institutions around the world participating in the construction of the new, all silicon, Inner Tracker (ITk) for the upgrade of the ATLAS detector for the High Luminosity Large Hadron Collider (HL-LHC) at CERN. Each module of the silicon strip tracker must undergo a series of thermal and electrical quality control measurements before they are installed in the ATLAS detector. Here at UBC, we are performing these critical tests in our newly commissioned cleanroom.

The student will work on building and improving the test setup, optimizing and automating the testing procedure, and analyzing and presenting the results from electrical tests to the wider ATLAS community. See more information about the ATLAS silicon Inner Tracker here.


7. Deep Learning with ATLAS

Contact: Alison Lister and Colin Gay| Emails: alister@phas.ubc.ca and cgay@phas.ubc.ca | Web: https://atlas.cern/

The ATLAS UBC Group is developing new deep learning techniques for both signal vs. background classification problems as well as inference problems (given what we see in our detector, what are the most likely properties of the particles that produce that signature). The students will work on further improvements of the method as well as develop techniques for mitigation of the impact of the systematic uncertainties on the deep learning model.

Experience and familiarity with Python is required.


8. AI-Driven Advancements in Nuclear Medicine: Optimizing Language Models for Clinical Reporting for PET scan

Contact: Arman Rahmim | Email: arman.rahmim@ubc.ca | Web: http://qurit.ca/

Outline of Research Project:
In our interdisciplinary lab, our primary focus is to advance image analysis for positron emission tomography (PET) scans to improve cancer diagnosis, staging and therapy response assessment in close collaboration with nuclear medicine physicians. Artificial Intelligence (AI) large language models (LLMs), similar to chatGPT, are emerging in radiology, excelling in tasks such as label extraction, summarization, and report generation from medical images. Despite the success of LLMs in various domains, their optimization for nuclear medicine applications remains a relatively unexplored area and additional training on domain-specific text, such as clinical reports in radiology, has proven effective. However, adapting these models to the relatively unique vocabulary of nuclear medicine reports presents challenges in accurate interpretation. Furthermore, in the context of imaging examinations, nuclear medicine physicians meticulously review prior reports to write a comprehensive report. Advanced LLMs offer the potential to enhance efficiency for physicians by summarizing these sources and generating concise clinical histories.

Our long term proposed plan at the Quantitative Radiomolecular Imaging & Therapy (Qurit) lab (Qurit.ca) for evaluating LLMs involves (i) evaluating language models performance in interpreting PET text reports for lymphoma cases, specifically focusing on generating assessments of therapy (Deauville score); (ii) assessing the ability of fine-tuned LLMs, in generating accurate and personalized impressions for multi-institutional whole-body PET reports; (iii) producing a text report based on 2D maximum intensity projections of 3D PET scans. The co-op student will work selectively on one of these steps, contributing to our ongoing research with the help of our researchers.

The Student's Role:
Upon joining the Qurit lab, the student will acquire proficiency in AI-based techniques, delving into fundamental concepts of deep learning approaches mainly by self-study of the existing materials in our lab. Through self-study and active discussion, the student will focus on exploring language models and engaging with patient imaging data (PET/CT) alongside their corresponding imaging reports. This immersive learning experience will be facilitated by collaborative efforts with researchers within the lab. Subsequently, the student's involvement in the proposed plan will be dynamic, with sub-projects tailored based on their capabilities and interests in any of the three stages. The primary objective involves assisting in refining existing language models for interpreting imaging reports and generating response-to-treatment assessments (Deauville Score for treatment assessment of lymphoma patients). This process will employ fine-tuning or possibly retrieval augmented generation (RAG), enhancing language model output by incorporating information from external knowledge sources. Additionally, the student will contribute to generate text reports based on PET scans.

The student's contributions will extend to one or more clusters within our lab, focusing on lymphoma, cervical, prostate, and/or lung cancers. The student will actively participate in an exciting research program and may have opportunities to engage in AI competitions or contribute to conference/journal publications alongside team members.

Throughout the program, the co-op student will gain valuable insights through daily/weekly mentorship, complete immersion in a multi-disciplinary environment, and a profound understanding of the latest developments in imaging and AI. Collaborative interactions with clinical and technical collaborators will further enrich the learning experience. The trainee will actively participate in presenting and discussing research ideas in a secure yet intellectually stimulating environment. This emphasis on effective communication skills aligns seamlessly with our lab's mentorship approach, which is entirely driven by the student's eagerness to learn and excel.

9. Statistics of CMB Polarization

Contact: Dr. Douglas Scott | Email: dscott@phas.ubc.ca | Web: https://www.astro.ubc.ca/people/scott/basic.html

The cosmic microwave background allows us to probe the Universe on the largest length scales possible. There are several hints or "anomalies" that may suggest modifications to physics on large scales or at very early times in the history of the Cosmos. In order to assess if such anomalies are real or just mild statistical excursions in the data, it is necessary to find new ways to probe the large-scale Universe. One such new probe is provided by sensitive measurements of CMB polarization, which comes from new modes in the early Universe. The latest maps of large-angle polarization have been provided by the Planck satellite. In this project we will study aspects of sky polarization, and investigate statistical techniques that can be used to distinguish the cosmological signals and to test for deviations from statistical anisotropy. Additionally, it will be useful to assess the power of future (more sensitive) polarization measurement using simulations.


10. Deep Learning in Astronomy

Contact: Dr. Douglas Scott | Email: dscott@phas.ubc.ca | Web: https://www.astro.ubc.ca/people/scott/basic.html

There are many data analysis problems in astronomy that are best approached using simple likelihood function methods. However, there are other questions (involving non-linear selection tasks, or pattern-matching in huge databases) that are more efficiently performed with "machine-learning" (ML) methods, such as neural networks. One downside to the use of ML approaches is that it is often difficult to determine robust uncertainties on derived parameters. Another unresolved issue is how to combine traditional and ML methods in tasks that use both approaches for different parts. We will investigate these topics by looking at the use of ML in astronomy, combining data at multiple wavelengths to identify and categorize distant galaxies and assess their statistical properties.


11. New phases of matter in Twisted Bilayers

Contact: Marcel Franz | Email: franz@phas.ubc.ca

Electronic properties of crystals depend strongly on the periodicity of the underlying crystalline lattice. In two-dimensional systems such as graphene or high-Tc cuprate monolayers the periodic structure can be controlled to a remarkable degree by "moire engineering" whereby two monolayers are assembled with a small twist. This generally leads to a superlattice with much longer period than the original crystal which in turn gives rise to novel electronic phases including correlated insulators, Chern insulators and exotic topological superconductors.  

In this USRA project based at the Blusson Quantum Matter Institute, the student will help identify such novel phases of matter by performing theoretical calculations on a range of models describing interacting electrons in moire materials. Exchange of ideas with QMI experimental groups will be strongly encouraged. The student will receive training in computational methods that are commonly used in solid state physics. Some prior knowledge of computational methods and experience with Python/Matlab/Unix OS would be very helpful.

 12. PIONEER: Studies of Rare Pion Decays

Contact: Douglas Bryman | Email: doug@triumf.ca

PIONEER is a new particle physics experiment designed to delve deeply into the Standard Model (SM) generation puzzle: why are there precisely three generations or flavors of ordinary matter particles electrons, neutrinos, and quarks.  PIONEER will make measurements of unprecedented precision and will confront the extraordinarily accurate SM prediction for the charged-pion branching ratio to electrons vs. muons which is extremely sensitive to the SM hypothesis of Lepton Flavor Universality;  LFU states that each lepton flavor (e, µ, τ and their neutrinos) has identical couplings to the weak force carriers, whereas many hypothetical new physics scenarios involving high mass scales not included in the SM or directly reachable with colliders would result in deviations from the SM expectations. At UBC and TRIUMF, we are concentrating on the design and development of the PIONEER liquid xenon scintillating calorimeter which will measure the energies of the pion and muon decay product positrons. Work on this URSA project may involve hands-on testing and evaluation of photosensors and a liquid xenon purity monitor, as well as simulations. Experimental laboratory and electronics experience, and knowledge of Python, C++, and simulation codes would be assets.























































































































































































































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