Student Research in Physics and Astronomy
All physics and astronomy majors have the opportunity to perform meaningful and potentially publishable research, working closely with our faculty. Our current research areas include quantum computing, observational cosmology, nonlinear physics and fluid dynamics, extragalactic astronomy, biophysics, and nanoscience.
Students interested in a research career can explore the depth of their interest, and try out a particular subfield. We also feel it is important for students interested in other careers to get a taste of what research is really like. For example, some real experience with scientific research would aid the decision making of a graduate who went into government, or assist a teacher who might counsel students on career choices. Also, not infrequently, students discover a real love of research and revise their career plans.
Research in Physics
In physics, most of the student research experience is connected with the senior paper and talk, which form the backbone of Physics 399, our Senior Seminar course. All physics majors must complete such a project; about 80% base the paper on original research they have performed (either at Haverford, or elsewhere in the summer), and about 10% write a paper summarizing the research literature on a particular topic. The remaining 10% consists of students working toward a teaching certificate, who are required to put in a very substantial effort in student teaching at local schools. Their experiences and observations, together with readings in the literature on education, often form the basis for their paper.
Research in Astronomy
All astronomy and astrophysics majors are required to engage in research. Most students perform this research at Haverford, although some students use an off-campus research experience to fulfill this requirement (with approval from the faculty). For astrophysics majors, this research must be presented in a senior thesis and talk. For astronomy majors, where a senior thesis is not required, student research enters the students' curriculum as a course (Astro 404). This course is open to Bryn Mawr students. Both Bryn Mawr and Haverford students may do astronomy research as their senior project in physics. Haverford astronomy students have recently investigated: theoretical general relativity, the possible effect of radio sources on Sunyaev-Zel'dovich effect surveys, the observable properties of the least luminous galaxies, and searches for ultra-faint dwarf galaxies and star clusters.
Research and Faculty involvement
For seniors doing original research, many students begin work with a Haverford professor for 10 weeks in the summer before the senior year, and continue it for academic credit during the school year. Some students instead perform research off-campus (e.g. at an REU site) during the summer before their senior year, and then develop this into a senior thesis under the supervision of a Haverford professor, with continued input from the summer research supervisor. The proportion is larger in astronomy because a higher proportion of off-campus opportunities are available, including those at other colleges which are part of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium. The rest of our students begin original research in their senior year, either directly with a Haverford professor or in an area outside the specific expertise of any of the faculty. A faculty mentor would supervise this latter type of research, which must usually be supported by a significant literature research project in order to make a meaningful thesis.
There are also research opportunities at Haverford for students at all levels, both during the academic year and summer. In practice, most research done by students prior to their senior year takes place during the summer. Each year, students are invited to speak with professors about research. Students are then invited to submit informal applications for available summer research positions. Positions are offered to students from the freshman to junior classes, with preference generally given to more senior students. The summer academic environment in the Physics and Astronomy departments is quite thriving, with anywhere from 10 - 20 students engaging in research within the department.
We also strongly encourage students at all levels to apply for off-campus research positions. We rely largely on announcements from REU sites and the like, or summer research opportunities which arise through our professional contacts.
We are proud of the quality of research our students complete. It is frequently of quality to merit publication in good journals (Astrophysical Journal, Nature, Physical Review Letters, and the like).