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Student Research

Undergraduate Research

Many of our undergraduates take part in research programs both at Fordham and other institutions. Below you can read about the research projects that our students have worked on.

Summer 2013
Katrina Colletti, FCRH 2014 (Physics)
Indiana University – NSF REU program

The goal of this project was to measure the muon-induced neutron flux in lead at sea level using the SciBath neutral particle detector. The muon-induced neutron rate is not well known, is challenging to measure and simulate, and potentially an important background for underground experiments such as the EXO neutrinoless double beta-decay experiment. A mass of 45 kg of lead was placed on top of the detector, and muon/neutron-capture correlated events were measured. Events with accidental neutron-capture signals were subtracted as were muon/neutron-capture correlated events from spallation in the detector liquid scintillator. This procedure resulted in a neutron yield from lead at sea level of 1.4 (±1.1) × 10−5 (n/μ) (g cm−2 )−1 with the typical muon energy at sea level Eμ ≈ 4 GeV. We compare this to parameterizations created for underground experimental sites extrapolated up to sea level.

Ariel Fragale, FCRH 2014 (Physics)
Fordham university – Summer Science intern

Lattice Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), or numerical techniques, have been used to determine the difference between the up and down quark masses, which are usually assigned the same mass in such lattice QCD calculations. However, the values of these quark masses as calculated on the lattice do not directly correspond to the physical value reported by the Particle Data Group. As such, using lattice perturbation theory, one can calculation the "renormalization coefficient" that relates the lattice mass difference to the physical mass difference. My calculation, combined with lattice data, will lead to the first ever precise determination of the up-down quark mass difference.

jenna kocsis, FCRH 2017 (Engineering Physics)
fordham University

Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body. The collagen molecule exists in a triple helix state with extensive hydrogen bonds providing stability. The denaturation of collagen is characterized by the unraveling of the triple helix. This summer I continued a research project examining the effects of ultraviolet radiation on the denaturation of the collagen. My experiment involved exposing the collagen to UV radiation in varying doses. The collagen was then placed in a qpod which regulated the temperature. The collagen was very slowly heated from 30-42°C. Fiber optic cables delivered UV light to the collagen. With a spectrometer and the OceanOptics software connected to the qpod, the absorption spectrum of collagen throughout the UV region was monitored. As the temperature increased, the absorption increased. The denaturation temperature is the temperature at which the absorption stops increasing. After many tests, I found that the UV radiation does not change the denaturation temperature of the collagen. Collagen consistently denatured at 38°C. I did discover though that when the UV light heats the collagen during exposure to around 34°C, the collagen denatures immediately.

Brigid Mulroe, FCRH 2016 (Engineering Physics)
Fordham University – Summer Science Intern

This summer, I worked on developing a whispering gallery mode sensor to detect the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The whispering gallery mode sensor is a type of micro-optical platform that is used for detecting bacteria, viruses and other analytes in aqueous media. It makes use of optical resonances within a spherical microcavity that are stimulated using a tunable diode laser and monitored by a photodetector. When a target analyte binds to the surface of the resonator, the resonance frequency shifts due to the interaction of the analyte particle and the resonant optical field. The development of a sensitive virus detector of this kind has important medical applications. The apparatus will be much more portable than current virus detection systems and will require drastically reduced time for diagnoses.
We have built on the current work of tapered fiber development and microsphere fabrication to assemble a functional apparatus for detection of HPV. Methods were perfected for fabricating tapered fibers 3-5 µm in diameter and microspheres of diameters of 100-400 µm. In addition to the optical system development we performed chemical modification of the microsphere surfaces to allow the HPV antibodies to be attached securely. We are currently testing the binding capability of the sensor platform to determine the detection limits of the present configuration via serial concentration measurements.

Kathryn Reddy, FCRH 2014 (Physics)
Lehigh University – NSF REU Program

T In one of his three celebrate papers published in 1905 Albert Einstein postulated the relationship between particle number density and osmotic pressure for non-interactive colloidal particles in suspension. In 1911, using Einstein’s theory, Jean Baptist Perrin conducted his Nobel Prize winning experiment in which he determined the Boltzmann constant and therefore Avogadro's number. To accurately define the Boltzmann constant Perrin minimized particle interactions by using sufficiently low particle concentrations. Having a precise value for the Boltzmann constant allows us to extend Perrin's experiment to the interactive particle regime and therefore quantify multi-particle interactions in samples with relatively high densities. Our experiment simulates a gravitational force by using a centrifuge to drive the suspended particles into sedimentation equilibrium. We measure particle concentration distribution in the sediment by their turbidity and use Einstein’s equation to determine colloidal osmotic pressure for 233 nm diameter polystyrene particles in deionized water and in 1 mM KCl solution. Experimental data of extremely dilute samples are consistent with non-interactive particle suspensions. As concentration increases osmotic pressure deviates from the ideal. We quantify this non-ideality, caused by particle interactions, through the plot of osmotic pressure as a function of number density.

Drew Rotunno, FCRH 2014 (Physics)
Kansas State University – NSF REU program

In the field of atomic, molecular and optical physics, it is of particular interest to study interactions of molecules with the intense electric fields produced by high-powered short-pulse lasers. Since the detection of particles with high kinetic energy is significantly easier than detecting stationary particles, previous study has largely focused on interactions with fast ion beams. My particular project was to devise a method to partially neutralize beam of 10keV H­2+ ions, thereby creating a fast beam of neutral molecules to study. Argon gas was chosen as a target molecule, to be pumped into the beamline through glass microchannel plates, providing a collision area for electron transfers to neutralize H­2+ ions. Many considerations were given to structure and design of a test beamline and neutralization apparatus, but such a device has yet to be created or tested.

Rachel Sattler, FPCS 2014 (Engineering Physics)
Summer Internship - Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

One of the current interests of the White lab, a cancer biology and genetics lab, is the role of polymerases in DNA repair and their impact on cancer-causing mutations. My role this summer was to screen for chemicals that either significantly promote or suppress the expression of PolN and PolK. These two polymerases allow damaged areas of DNA to be bypassed during transcription, but they are error prone and thus cause mutations in the DNA strand at the points of damage. These point mutations may result in cancer formation. In fact, it has been observed that PolN and PolK are more highly expressed in cancer cells than in normal cells. My partner and I screened through approximately 200 chemical a week using an in-situ hybridization assay. This procedure required a wide variety of activities including mating zebrafish, transfecting bacteria in order to produce an RNA probe, and preparing various washes and buffers for the process. We ended the summer with several several interesting results. Those results are currently being confirmed via a dosage screen by a graduate student in White lab and will be part of a her PhD thesis. She will continue the assay and use the results in order to better understand the mechanism by which polymerases contribute to cancer.

Joe sweeney, FCRH 2015 (3-2 Engineering program)
Fordham University – Summer Science Intern

A key part to the standard model of physics describing the interactions of subatomic particles is quantum chromodynamics.   This field deals with the strong interaction, one of the four fundamental forces of nature. The strong interaction binds quarks to form the protons and neutrons as well as other hadrons.  The masses of  hadrons can be determined by numerically calculating a correlation function, C(t),  which generically has the form e-mt, where m is the mass of the hadron. The correlation function can thus be used to numerically determine the mass of a hadron. For this project, we implemented a new method of analyzing these correlation functions, the generalized pencil of function method (GPoF), which reduces the statistical errors in the determination of a given hadron mass. The goal of this project is to understand the systematic error introduced using this method.
 Summer 2012
Mikael Oja, FCRH 2013 (Physics)
University of delaware

This summer, I worked with Professor James MacDonald on his work on the modeling of the evolution of extrasolar gas giants. We assumed the planets can be treated in the same way as low mass stars and used previously developed methods for analyzing the evolution of these gas giants. Specifically, we looked at the change in radii of the planets throughout their evolution based on different energy inputs and internal magnetic field strengths. We analyzed models assuming an isolated, non-irradiated system, an irradiated system, and then an irradiated system which takes the structural effects of internal magnetic fields into account. Our main goal was to compare our results with those of Barrafe et. al. in their paper on the same topic. We found that these added considerations are not enough to make up for the discrepancy between observed and calculated radii of the planets.

Marian Rogers, FCRH 2013 (Physics)
College of William & Mary – NSF REU Program

I studied calculations in the two-Higgs-doublet-model (2HDM) extensions of the Standard Model of the Higgs signal strength μ = σ2HDM/σSM in the h → ττ, h → γγ, and h → ZZ channels. I considered the scenario in which both of the neutral scalars inthe 2HDM are in a mass range near 125 GeV, and are less than 1 GeV apart. Calculations of the coupling corrections and their effect on the cross sections in this limit were presented and compared with the Standard Model. This case is shown to give good agreement with the CMS collaboration’s current experimental results of the signal strengths of these three decay modes.

"Two Higgs are Better than One"

We've discovered a Higgs-like Resonance!
But make your conclusions with hesitance--
The sigmas are good,
That's well understood,
But no model can yet enjoy permanence.

One Standard Model Higgs seems compatible,
Though Two Higgs are also quite suitable:
It fits the signals on the high-side,
But with the errors on the wide-side
These models just ain't yet refutable.

But while we wait for more data to come,
We can let our imaginations run.
At the 125 resonance,
For which there's no precedence,
(Just maybe) two Higgs are better than one.

Seth Bourg, FCRH 2014 (Engineering Physics)
Fordham University – Summer Science Intern

My work researched the effects that various impurities, or dopants, had when mixed with liquid crystals in regards to how sharply light passing through the liquid crystals was bent. We also investigated how ultraviolet and infrared radiation changed these outcomes. We tested impurities that were dye-based as well as several compounds synthesized in the lab.

I ran several different tests on the compounds. First, I ground and pressed the impurities into small discs and passed an infrared laser through it. By measuring the wavelength patterns of the light that were transmitted, we were able to determine a chemical "fingerprint" of each compound. Afterwards, I mixed these compounds with liquid crystal and glycerol and then studied the mixture under a microscope. The glycerol caused the liquid crystal and impurities to collect into tight, spiraling droplets. The helical pitch of these spirals could then be measured to determine twisting power.

The third major test that we ran was to take the mixtures of liquid crystal and impurities and run a spectrotest on them in the visible light spectrum. Over the course of each 15-minute test, we would shine ultraviolet light on each sample and record how the intensity of the transmitted light changed over the course of the irradiation.

The two major compound discoveries that we found concerned one dye-based impurity, chrysophenine (yellow), which responded quite strongly to ultraviolet radiation; and a compound called PS/LS-1, synthesized by Dr. Shibayev, which exhibited the strongest twisting power.

Katrina Colletti, FCRH 2014 (Physics)
Fordham University – Summer Science Intern

Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholar

The primary objective of this project was to examine different possible phases for quarks in numerical simulations.  These simulations probe areas of new physics that go beyond the current Standard Model of particle physics. In particular, Quantum Chromodynamics, which has been consistently verified experimentally, is theoretically studied by numerical Lattice simulations. To study physics beyond the Standard Model theoretically, which is what we have undertaken in this project, one can modify aspects of the Standard Model, such as the number of quarks, to learn what would be seen experimentally. This was the basis of this research project this summer.

I analytically reproduced the results of previous work on the subject, finding an error in a published article on the subject. I evaluated the Lagrangian equation to find the squared masses of various mesons. For the second part of the summer, I used the program Mathematica to solve these same mathematical equations and extend my mentor's work into new phases not yet researched.

Through my research this summer, I found that there are indeed two more phases in addition to the broken phases studied previously by my mentor. We found that the phase diagram describing these meson fields is far more rich and intricate than previously thought. We are working on finding where these new phases that we investigated will eventually meet, if at all.

Ariel Fragale, FCRH 2014 (Physics)
Lehigh University – NSF REU Program

This project explored rotationally inelastic collisions (at T = 600K) of He atoms with NaK molecules in the (A1Σ+) electronic state.  The GAMESS code was used to determine the He-NaK potential surface at values of the NaK internuclear distance ranging from 6.0 to 11.0 a0.  Then theoretical calculations using the Arthurs and Dalgarno coupled channel formalism were performed to investigate the strong Δj=even propensity found in rate constants determined experimentally at Lehigh for the v=16 vibrational level of the first excited (A1Σ+) state. Previous calculations in our group had assumed a fixed internuclear separation of NaK at the equilibrium distance (7.935 a0); this assumption corresponds approximately to treating the v=0 state. This work did not reproduce the propensity measured experimentally. To better approximate the v=16 state, the oscillation of the molecule was taken into account in the calculations by averaging the potential over the NaK internuclear distance using the probability density of the vibrational wave function. Coupled channel scattering calculations then used the averaged potential to solve the Schrödinger equation for the nuclear motion of the atoms, giving cross sections used to estimate the theoretical rate constants. When compared to experiment, the new theoretical calculations show an excellent agreement. The difference in the results for v=0 and v=16 suggests that the propensity has a strong dependence on the vibrational state of the NaK molecule.

Kathryn Reddy, FCRH 2014 (Physics)
Lehigh University – NSF REU Program

It is well known that electrophoretic motion, the movement of a particle due to an external electric field, can be used to quantify particle charge. However, previous techniques assume the viscosity of a sample to be known. Using this setup we can both measure the viscosity of a sample directly and obtain reliable charge measurements. Here we studied the electrophoretic motion of a 1.5 μm polystyrene particle using an optical tweezers setup. A lock-in amplifier provided amplitude and phase measurements, and a function generator provided an AC electric field to our sample chamber. Optophoresis, in the form of optical tweezers, was used as a tool to quantify the electrophoretic effects. The setup used standard illumination and quadrant photodiode detection. This allows for extremely accurate calibration of the optical tweezers and precise measurements of particle motion. Manipulation of the relevant equation of motion allowed us to calculate particle charge and electrophoretic mobility. We found the charge of our particles to be 1.26 x 10-16 N·m/V and the eletrophoretic mobility to be 8.563 x 10-9 m2/V·s. We are able to validate the consistency and accuracy of such a setup through error analysis and comparison with previously published data.

Shannon Rosario, FCRH 2013 (Engineering Physics)
Fordham University

Andrew Rotunno, FCRH 2014 (Physics)
Fordham University – Summer Science Intern

Quick and informative characterization of small non-spherical aerosol particles has many important uses in precise manufacturing, creating climate models, and defense against bioterrorism. The goal of this summer project was to create a lab apparatus which will simultaneously record light scattering and in-line holography for an object on the order of microns, along with finding techniques to digitally reconstruct holograms and analyze the scattering data. The project has thus far concentrated only on stationary objects, as a preliminary step towards characterization of similarly sized aerosols in flight.

Rachel Sattler, FPCS 2014 (Engineering Physics)
Fordham University

Clare Boothe Luce Research Scholar

Have you ever heard of a cancer-smelling dog? They do exist, and while four-armed lab coats won’t soon appear in the local cancer ward, there is growing interest and research in ways that smell can be used to detect cancer more effectively. 

Malignant melanoma has a distinct smell when cut. Though humans cannot smell them, it is understood that the tumors are still out gassing when intact.  With the help of spectral analysis, it may be possible to find a distinct pattern to the “smell” of the cancer. Evidence of a unique pattern could provide huge advancements in early-detection technology.

Over the summer of 2012, the Engineering and Applied Physics Laboratory designed four spectral analysis set-ups capable of providing data on collected gas over a broad range (approximately 200 nm – 9300 nm). Each set-up uses a different light source: UV, halogen, heat, and a quantum cascade laser respectively.  

Dr. Richard White, from Sloan-Kettering, will be providing malignant melanoma tumors for analysis in the fall of 2012.  With these tumors, we will be able to test each apparatus and take preliminary data.

Michael Yu, FCRH 2014 (Engineering 3-2 Program)
Fordham University – Summer Science Intern

The efficacy of surgical treatment for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) depends critically on obtaining negative margins. Optical imaging has the potential to improve their accuracy and reduce frozen section utilization. Determine accuracy and reliability of the interpretation of absorption of mid-IR laser radiation.

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