Physics Program Research

The physics program offers numerous research opportunities in theoretical physics, experimental physics and observational astronomy for undergraduate students. Physics majors at Colorado Mesa University are required to take a total of four credit hours of senior research and senior seminar courses as well as possibilities for independent study and informal individual mentorship. This offers students opportunities for learning beyond the classroom, exposure to currently exciting developments in physics and development of research techniques and skills.

The CMU physics faculty are actively involved in research in a variety of fields and each has several publications in prominent journals and conference proceedings. Areas of current interest include:

  • Material Science and Nanotechnology
  • General Relativity and Gravitation.
  • Quantum Computing and Quantum Information.
  • Computational Astrophysics.
  • Exoplanetary Photometry.
  • Variable Star Spectroscopy.

Physics students at CMU frequently participate in summer research programs at other institutions, typically via the NSF REU program.

CMU is a partner in the Falcon Telescope Network with the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.  Students at CMU will have access to several 20" research grade Ritchey Chretien Telescopes with one being located right near Grand Junction at The Grand Mesa Observatory.

Student Research Highlights

Recent and past highlights of research involving Colorado Mesa University physics undergraduate students include:

  • Scott Jackson won the best oral presentation in physical and environmental sciences for the 2018 CMU Student Showcase for this talk "Examining The Vacuum Regime In The D-Dimensional Friedmann-Walker-Robertson Model of Cosmology"
  • Bret Brouse won the best poster presentation in mathematics for the 2018 CMU Student Showcase for his work "An investigation of physics using model theory and first order logic".
  • Brandon Gracey and Dr. Jared Workman published their work "G2 and Sgr A* A Cosmic Fizzle at Galactic Center",  ApJ 843, (2017)
  • Jaimie Stephens and Dr. David Collins  published their work "Depolarizing Parameter Channel Estimation Using Noisy Initial States", Phys. Rev. A, 92, 032324 (2015).
  • Jeremiah Moskal ported the Sedov Taylor code written in Fortan 77 by F. X. Timmes and J. R. Kamm to Python and has contributed the code the astrophysical community.  This code will allow for new hydrocdes to validate their own Sedov Taylor simulations very quickly and efficiently see here - Sedov Taylor Code  
  • Brandon Gracey won an award for the best poster presentation at the 2015 CMU Student Showcase for work done on the simulation of the encounter of the gas cloud G2 and the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy SGR A*.
  • Danny Weller and Dr. Chad Middleton published their work "Elliptical Like Orbits On A Warped Spandex Fabric: A Theoretical/Experimental Undergraduate Research Project", Am. J. Phys. 84, 284 (2016)
  • Danny Weller presented his senior research at the 2014 APS Four Corners Meeting at Utah Valley University. 
  • Tom Morrison won an award for the best poster presentation at the 2014 CMU Student Showcase for work done on the simulation of the emitted spectrum from accretion disks at various inclination angles.
  • Caitlin Heath published her work with Dr. Jared Workman on initial mass functions of stellar populations in galactic clusters in the Monthly Notices of The Royal Astronomical Society. See: "Modeling Increased Metal Production In Galaxy Clusters With Pair-Instability Supernovae", Brian Morsony, Caitlin Heath, and Jared Workman, accepted in MNRAS.
  • Michael Langston published his work with Dr. Chad Middleton on orbits on spandex in the American Journal of Physics. See: "Circular orbits on a warped spandex fabric", C. Middleton and M. Langston, Am. J. Phys. 82, 287 (2014)
  • Jaimie Stephens placed as "runner-up" for the undergraduate poster presentation at the Spring 2014 SPS Zone 14 Regional Meeting.
  • Garry Stewart won an award for the best poster presentation at the 2013 CMU Student Showcase. Garry presented results of his senior research project which investigated the oscillations of a magnet levitated above a superconductor.
  • Caitlin Heath won a Chambliss Astronomy Achievement Student Award for her poster at the 220th AAS meeting in Anchorage, AK. Only four undergraduate students received Chambliss medals at this meeting. Her poster described her senior research project, "The Importance of High-Mass Stars for Metal Enrichment in
    Galaxy Clusters."
  • Ethan Stanley and Dr. Chad Middleton published their work "Anisotropic Evolution Of 5D Friedmann-Robertson-Walker Space Time", Phys. Rev. D, 84, 085013 (2011)".
  • Peter Schulze won the 2011 award for Outstanding Performance in Physics at the Los Alamos National Laboratory Student Symposium. This was open to graduate and undergraduate students doing research at Los Alamos during the summer of 2011.
  • Casey Brown won the award for the best oral presentation at the 2011 Mesa State College Student Showcase. Casey presented results of his senior research project which investigated the dynamics of various football throwing motions.
  • Jacob Cady won the award for the best presentation by an undergraduate student at the annual APS 4Corners Section meeting held at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado in October 2009.
  • Jacob Cady published his analysis of the high road/low road classical dynamics problem in the Journal of Undergraduate Research in Physics. See: Jacob Cady and Chad A. Middleton, "The High/Low Road Demonstration, Or Birds On A Wire," J. Undergraduate Research in Physics, 22, Dec 2009.
  • Dan Rottinghaus published his work on the tipping of a kayak in the Journal of Undergraduate Research in Physics. See: Daniel R. Rottinghaus and Chad A. Middleton, "Kayaking Physics: The Tipping Angle," J. Undergraduate Research in Physics, 22, Aug 2009.

Research Areas

Einstein's theory of General Relativity (GR) describes gravitation as the curvature of space and time due to the presence of matter and energy. This theoretical construct has been heralded as one of the greatest achievements of the human mind whose validity has been confirmed through countless experiments and astronomical observations. In addition to predicting the now-measured bending of starlight by our Sun and to accurately accounting for the perihelion precession of Mercury, GR has given birth to several exotic creatures including black holes and neutron stars and to modern cosmology.

At CMU, research in GR has focused on gravitational scenarios involving space times with more than four dimensions. Recent work has included a high-energy Gauss-Bonnet modification to standard Friedmann-Robertson-Walker cosmology.

Research in the areas of general relativity and gravitation at CMU is conducted by Prof. Chad Middleton.

Information can be stored in the states of quantum mechanical systems and processed via a controlled evolution of such systems. Since the early 1980s there have emerged a variety of novel information processing protocols which use the characteristic quantum mechanical features of such systems to accomplish ordinary information tasks in ways far superior to those available to conventional computers. Examples include quantum algorithms for factorization and searching, quantum cryptographic schemes and quantum teleportation. Such quantum information processing tasks are generally related to aspects of quantum theory which are traditionally considered part of the foundations of quantum mechanics.

At CMU, research in this area is focuses on quantum algorithms. Recent work has involved methods for adapting and assessing quantum algorithms when applied to ensembles of quantum systems as well as considering algorithms from the perspective of unitary discrimination.

Research in these areas at CMU is conducted by Prof. David Collins.

Research in quantum field theory at CMU is conducted by Dr. Anwar Shiekh.

Astrophysics is the study of the physical laws and processes governing stellar objects, systems, and the evolution of the universe. Understanding these areas typically requires a synthesis of classical mechanics, electromagnetism, relativity, statistical mechanics, fluid dynamics and quantum mechanics.

Research efforts in this area at CMU are focused on developing analytical, numerical, and computational techniques in order to elucidate the physical phenomena. Topics considered include:

  • analytic models of exoplanetary atmospheres and radiative transfer in exoplanetary atmospheres,
  • the dynamics of accretion onto Sgr A* in the galactic center,
  • current sheet dynamics, reconnection physics, collisionless shocks, and particle acceleration in solar flares and astrophysical shocks using fluid based magnetohydrodynamic and Particle in Cell codes,
  • the effects of magnetic fields and thermal physics on variability in accretion disks around Neutron Stars, Black Holes, and White Dwarfs,
  • the effect of hydrodynamic turbulence on disks undergoing the MRI (magnetorotational instability), and
  • simulating the spectrum of GRB afterglows (in their relativistically expanding phase) using an emission process which accounts for the randomly oriented magnetic field which are (likely) to be found in these regimes.
  • transiting exoplanet observations (photometric)
  • variable star observations (photometric and spectroscopic)

Research in the area of astronomy,  analytical astrophysics, and computational astrophysics at CMU is conducted by Prof. Jared Workman.

Materials science pulls theory and experimental techniques from physics and chemistry to develop novel materials, as well as study and determine their properties, including, but not limited to, structural, vibrational, electric, and magnetic characteristics. Nanotechnology involves the study of materials smaller than 100 nanometers. Nanomaterials very often have dramatically different properties than their bulk counterparts.

Research in this area at CMU focuses on metal oxides, bulk and nano-sized, having applications to nuclear and renewable energy, such as lithium manganese spinel oxides, nickel ferrites, and organometal halide perovskites. Currently, The main technique for this characterization is X-ray diffraction for crystallographic information, but plans are underway to construct a temperature-dependent Raman facility to enable further research. The flexibility of this equipment allows for investigation on a near limitless range of materials.

Materials science research at CMU is conducted by Prof. Brian Hosterman