Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU)

The 2021 REU student cohort is full. Information about the 2022

REU will be available at the end of 2021.


2021 Program summary

The Physics REU program at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) will host undergraduate research students for 10 weeks during the summer to participate in research projects, professional development activities, and an introduction to research-oriented careers in physics and astronomy. Participants will be matched with faculty mentors based on student interests and will join a cohort of students participating in weekly seminars, workshops, and an introduction to research resources and skills.The UWB Physics REU program for the summer of 2021 may be a hybrid of online and on-campus activities, with the option to participate fully online.

Research areas

  • Physics Education Research
  • Computational Physics and Astrophysics
  • Gravitational Wave Astronomy
  • Experimental Condensed Matter Physics

Research mentors and project descriptions

Luisa-BuchmanLuisa Buchman

Project: Numerical Relativity for Compact Binary Coalescences

The Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) collaboration leads in the production of gravitational wave templates for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) through numerical simulations of compact binary coalescences. Students will have an opportunity to participate in the SXS collaboration, working directly with SXS group members and contributing to group meetings. Students will help to implement and test code to yield more accurate simulations, especially for higher order modes of the gravitational waves. They will learn how various compact binary scenarios such as mass ratio, orbital precession, or spins of the objects will affect the waveforms and the properties of the remnant black hole. They will also be involved in developing scripts to help analyze the voluminous data that result from these simulations.

Joseph-GlaserJoseph Glaser

Project: Exploring the Birthplaces of Exoplanets via Simulations

To fully understand the diverse population of exoplanets, we must study their early lives within open clusters, the birthplace of most stars with masses >0.5M⊙ (including those currently in the field). Indeed, when we observe planets within clustered environments, we notice highly eccentric and odd systems that suggest the importance of dynamical pathways created by interactions with additional bodies (as in the case of HD 285507b). Using an intuitive computational simulation framework wrapped in Python,  REU students engaged in this project will be open to investigating multiple different related subtopics, such as: (1) probing for planetary migration pathways due to stellar encounters; (2) determining the likelihood of a planetary system's configuration; and (3) developing a pipeline for coupling mass-inflow around a newly formed star and the post-disk planetary architecture. Any project undertaken will involve students getting hands-on knowledge of running sims on computing clusters and how to scale a project to the right piece of tech. In addition, students will be encouraged to invest time in creating enjoyable visualizations for their research.

Jeff HazbounJeff Hazboun

Project:  Searching for Gravitational Waves with a Galactic Array of Pulsars

The NANOGrav Detection Working Group has developed detection software packages that can be installed and used on personal computers, allowing students to become immediately involved with the search for gravitational waves. These pipelines give students an introduction into modern Bayesian statistical analysis techniques and Python coding. NANOGrav is building noise portraits for individual pulsars by using Bayesian model selection and undergraduate students at UWB have been working through the various stages of that process for individual pulsars. With each new dataset, this type of model selection will be needed and is a tractable introduction for students interested in radio and gravitational wave astronomy. For exceptional students, there is also an opportunity to develop new noise models for these pulsars and connect their noise characteristics to various astrophysical phenomena, such as fluctuations in the interstellar medium and planets orbiting the pulsars.

Paola Rodriguez HidalgoPaola Rodríguez Hidalgo

Project:  Discovering and Studying Variability in Extremely High Velocity Outflows in Quasars using the Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Outflows are key to understanding the nature of Active Galactic Nuclei (AGN) at small and large scales. Gas outflowing in winds is common in AGN, and it might play a role in regulating the black hole growth and star formation in the host galaxies; this is known as the elusive “feedback”. In particular, the ones with extremely high speeds have not been thoroughly studied, so we do not know whether they are more variable, and they might pose the biggest challenges to the current state-of-the-art simulations. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has released the largest sample of quasar spectra, which currently include 526,356 quasars! In December 2019, SDSS released its 16th data release (DR16), increasing the number of available quasar spectra to use as our starting database. Students will work together in developing programming tools to mine this database and find quasars with extremely high velocity, focusing on those that show variability between repeated observations. This work will be useful for follow-up monitoring campaigns and to compare the properties of the found outflows to the results of theoretical simulations.

Joey KeyJoey Shapiro Key

Project:  Comprehensive Approach to Gravitational Wave Data Analysis

The LIGO BayesWave algorithm is capable of fitting the non-stationary LIGO noise, identifying short duration glitch events, and calculating the Bayes factor, or odds ratio, for the identification of a marginal gravitational wave signal. Students will have the opportunity to use BayesWave techniques to study LIGO data with injected gravitational wave signals in this comprehensive approach. Parameter estimation techniques using Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) machinery will be used to determine LIGO noise characteristics and the parameters of glitches in the data. The participants will then search data with injected burst sources of gravitational waves to demonstrate the detection and characterization capability of the BayesWave algorithm for a variety of potential burst sources.

Ansel-NeunzertAnsel Neunzert

Project: Narrow Spectral Artifact Identification for LIGO Continuous Wave Searches

The LIGO search for continuous wave (CW) sources is limited by the presence of narrow spectral artifacts in the data. Reliable automated generation of spectral line lists will improve comb identification and tracking of noise artifacts across multiple auxiliary data channels, among other applications. Students will explore via case study the impact of narrow spectral artifacts on past continuous wave searches and propose figures of merit for prioritizing noise mitigation efforts.

Subramanian-RamachandranSubramanian Ramachandran

Project: Applications of Thin Films in Optics, Superconductivity, and Surface Science

Students will synthesize and characterize oxide thin films for optical applications and study the modes of propagation of guided waves in oxide thin films as a function of thickness and quality. Thin films of high-temperature superconducting oxides will be synthesized and electrical resistivity will be measured in a liquid nitrogen cryostat. An existing physical absorption system will be reconfigured and integrated to a closed-cycle Helium-4 cryocooler to determine the surface area of intermetallic thin film samples with large surface area to volume ratio and to study gas-solid surface interaction with potential applications in catalysis. Students will have the opportunity to learn about various circuits and sensors used in experimental research, and to design, simulate, and build some of the measurement circuitry. In addition, opportunities are available for students to automate measurement using LabView. Materials synthesis and physical property measurement apparatus at UWB include a thermal evaporator, physical adsorption system, Seebeck coefficient measurement apparatus, and prism coupler for material characterization. A Helium 4 cryocooler allows for measurement of gas adsorption isotherms at temperature below 77K. Students will participate in literature review, experiment planning, materials synthesis, physical property measurement, and designing and building the measurement apparatus.

Amy RobertsonAmy Robertson

Project: Research and Curriculum Development to Leverage University Student Conceptual Resources for Understanding Physics

Physics education research has a rich history of topic-specific research about student thinking, focused primarily on identifying common incorrect student ideas about physics. This NSF-funded project repurposes the tools of existing physics education research to identify students’ ideas that are sensible and potentially productive, with the aim of developing instructional materials that elicit and build on students’ valuable intuitions. A multi-stranded research program offers many opportunities for students, including opportunities to (1) identify common student resources for understanding kinematics, linear momentum, electric circuits, and thermal physics; (2) develop and systematically test research-based instructional materials that elicit and build on student resources for understanding physics; and (3) intentionally seek a racially and ethnically representative sample of university physics students in order to rectify the current over-representation of white, wealthy, mathematically-prepared students. REU participants will participate in this project by analyzing (1) students’ written responses to conceptual questions developed by the project and (2) students’ videotaped interactions as they engage with instructional activities developed by the project. Researchers will gain experience in documentation of patterns in physics students’ written responses and discourse analysis of physics students’ video-recorded interactions.

Eric-SalatheEric Salathé

Project: Computational Modeling: Atmospheric Physics and Climate Change

The physical processes in the atmosphere that produce extreme events and that amplify the response to greenhouse gas forcing depend on basic physics concepts such as the movement of latent, sensible, and radiant energy between components of the Earth system. The role of processes in determining global- scale temperature and precipitation patterns is well-understood and underlie the projections of global climate change. There has been limited capacity, however, to model and study these processes in extreme events such as floods, droughts, and heat waves, which depend on small spatial and temporal scales. As a result, the most important effects of climate change on human and natural systems are poorly understood. This project will be based on the analysis of recent high-resolution climate model simulations for the Pacific Northwest and Eastern China. These simulations are ongoing using high-performance computing facilities in the U.S. and China. Existing simulation results provide an exceptional resource for original student research using a range of computational and theoretical methods. Students may also participate in developing new simulations working with climate models in a high-performance computing environment. Research in this area at UWB is currently supported through a subaward from Tsinghua University and collaborations with researchers at UW Seattle.

Rachel-ScherrRachel Scherr

Project: Framing the lab: Understanding student mindset in physics labs

Some physics labs are designed to reinforce the concepts students learn in lecture courses. Other labs are inquiry-based, giving students opportunities to experience open-ended, empirical investigation. Students in inquiry labs decide what data they need to collect, where and how to collect it, and how to analyze the data; they set up their own equipment in imaginative ways, talk to each other more, make decisions, and negotiate. This NSF-funded project has already established that students in inquiry-based labs show more positive attitudes and perceptions toward experimental physics, display more spontaneous critical thinking when evaluating their data, and are more willing to reject textbook theories when their own findings contradict them. In other words, they are engaging in more of the practices of science. REU participants will study videotape of students working together in physics labs to identify when students see themselves as genuinely investigating scientific questions and when they see themselves as following instructions to verify known relationships. Research methods will include qualitative and quantitative video analysis: selecting episodes of research interest, creating content logs, applying an established coding scheme, and making daily analytic memos. Researchers will gain experience in naturalistic observation and documentation of innovative educational environments, especially the selection of episodes of student interaction that illustrate students engaging in scientific practices.

Program calendar

  • February 15:  application deadline
  • March 5:  common acceptance deadline for all Physics REUs
  • May 15:  travel arrangements should be completed (if needed)
  • June 13:  arrive at program
  • June 14:  first day of program
  • August 20:  UWB School of STEM Student Research Symposium presentations from all students
  • August 21:  depart program

Please note: Physics REU sites will utilize a common deadline of March 5, 2021, for students to accept or decline first-round offers at domestic (non-international) sites. Sites may send offers to students at any time before this, but students will not be required to decide before this common date. Because of necessary organizational lead time, international REU sites may require earlier acceptance dates.


  • You must be an undergraduate student in any academic year (freshman through senior) at the time of the summer program.
  • You don't need to have a declared major, but you must have already completed the introductory physics sequence at your school.
  • Participants must be U.S. citizens or permanent residents in order to be supported by NSF funding. Other funding opportunities are also available for this program. Students who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents may be eligible for other funding. All interested students should apply at the link in the next section.

How to apply

Your application comprises the following:

  • A completed online application.
  • A statement of interest, up to 1 page in length.
    • In the statement of interest, describe your academic background, your interests, and your tentative career plans. The statement should indicate why you feel REU participation would benefit you and your future plans; also, describe how you believe you can contribute to your mentor’s research topic. If applicable, you are welcome to describe prior undergraduate research experience, as well as any other information that you feel may be useful to our assessment. Finally, please indicate if you have a preferred mentor or topic area. (Note, however, that final mentor assignment occurs after selection of participants.)
  • Your current college transcript(s).
    • Unofficial transcripts from your school registrar are acceptable. If your school provides you with online access to your transcript or degree audit, a PDF printout is acceptable.
  • Contact information for 2 professors or research mentors who can supply letters of reference.

All application materials are to be submitted using the link below.

Click here to apply

Stipends, lodging, and travel expenses

  • You are paid a program stipend of $6,000 to cover the cost of groceries, on- or off-campus dining, and other personal expenses.
  • You are lodged in shared student housing at no direct expense to you. Your roommates will be participants in the Physics REU at UWB and other summer science programs.
  • Up to $600 per student is available to assist with travel expenses to get to UWB at the beginning of the program and to return to your home or school after the end of the program.

Local and regional resources


For questions, please contact

NSF logo

Funded by National Science Foundation Award #2050928.