Department of Physics

faculty member and student working together

Student Research Opportunities

Few jobs can be found today where experience is not required, and this is especially true in the type of high tech careers our graduates seek. That is why undergraduate research is such a vital component of the educational experience in the WIU Physics Department. Opportunities exist for students at all levels (Freshman through Seniors) to begin working with faculty on research projects that are of interest to the student and of importance to the scientific community at large. Whether you are interested in experimental, theoretical, or computational physics or issues in physics education, a faculty sponsor is available who will mentor you in your studies.

Applied Knowledge

Research experiences are designed to supplement your studies in the classroom, not detract from them. You have Faculty work closely with students.the opportunity to apply the theoretical principles discussed in class to the experimental problems of the real world. While doing the work is certainly its own reward, you can also receive credit for your work in Physics 477 and honors students can also earn honors credit in this course which will culminate in their honors thesis (Physics 491H). Occasionally student help money is available for those who have special skills in the machine shop or with a computer.

Of course, your resume will certainly benefit from the experience. Previous participants have found that they have a competitive edge when applying for summer internships and graduate school as well as academic or industrial employment. Students active in these research experiences have been accepted at the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, and Iowa State University and they have consistently won national fellowship awards like the Barry M. Goldwater, USA Today All-Academic Team, and Phi Kappa Phi.

Hands-On Learning

Employers and graduate schools alike are looking for students who have experience using advanced equipment that you do not find in your typical classes. The ability to collect, interpret, and present data in a clear and concise manner is not just a principle of the scientific method, but an expectation in a global economy. Students in the WIU physics department have coauthored several papers and been co-presenters at dozens of state, national, and international conferences in recent years.

Atomic Force Microscope/Magnetic Force Microscopy

The AFM/MFM (pictured above) has been an important tool in furthering our understanding of magenetoelastic torque sensors. In MFM mode, we can locate and measure the thickness and intensity of a magnetic domain wall on the sensor. In AFM mode, we can observe the surface of an integrated circuit. Work done with the AFM/MFM serves as the basis of both a Master's thesis and an undergraduate honors thesis this year.


The discovery of the superconducting properties of magnesium diboride in the last two years has been a hot new area of research nationally and an area of interest in our own spectroscopy lab here at WIU. Following a colloquim by Dr. Canfield of Ames Laboratory at WIU (the discoverer of MgB2's properties), interested students started adding to the body of research in this field by performing Raman scattering experiments on magnesium diboride samples to provide additional insights regarding the crystalline structure of the superconducting sample.

Technically Literate Students

Employers expect more than scientific reasoning and proficient computers skills from today's graduates, they also expect graduates to be comfortable and familiar with advanced scientific instrumentation and the tools that are needed to perform research in an industrial, goverment, or academic setting. Students in the superconductivity research group not only utilize the spectrometer to analyze the structure of the samples under study, but also must use tools such as super-magnets, current supplies, and volt-meters to determine critical current densities and critical temperatures of the superconducting samples.

While not as glamourous or high tech as the AFM or a laser spectrometer, the use of a lathe or a drill press is equally important to the researcher who must construct their own equipment or samples for study. The WIU physics department is fortunate to have a fully functional machine shop in-house. Students without much experience are matched up with highly-skilled students so that those skills can be passed down as students move through the program, graduate, and leave. Skills in the machine shop are especially valuable, if not required, for those who wish to pursue a career in the industrial sector.

Magnesium Diboride

The study of magnesium diboride, although a new topic in superconductivity, was really just a new direction for the superconductivity research group which has been active for 10 years now at WIU. A few years ago, an entirely new research opportunity was presented to the WIU physics department by Methode Electronics out of Carthage, Illinois. Methode wished to become involved in the research and production of a new type of power-steering system based on a non-contact method of measuring the amount of torque applied to the steering wheel. Because of cutbacks within the company Methode was not able to continue their project but it has become a large research project at WIU involving many students and resulting in several publications in high-level journals that have been co-authored by students.

These "torque sensors" are a special composition of steel that are magnetized and exhibit the unique property that the strength of the field signal produced by the sensor changes as torque is applied to the steel sample. Therefore, the torque that is applied can be measured by sensing the strength of the magnetic field given by the sample. This is a much simpler and more cost-effective method than that of the hydraulics systems used in the past. Students in the magnetoelasticity research group are involved in the preparation of the steel samples, the measuring of the magnetic hysteresis and magnetostrictive properties, and the testing of the sensing capabilities.

Travel Opportunities

Students involved in research have had many opportunities to travel around the country to present papers at national and international conferences. In recent years, students have presented at the American Physical Society's March Meeting in Austin, TX; Indianapolis, IN; and Atlanta, GA. Students involved in research on magnetoelastic torque sensors have traveled to the Magnetism and Magnetic Materials Conference in Anaheim, CA; San Jose, CA; and Seattle, WA. Students get the opportunity to prepare for such experiences by first participating in smaller, regional conferences such as those held by the Illinois Section of the American Association of Physics Teachers or even here at WIU on Undergraduate Research Day.

Honors Experience

If you are an honors student, you know that you will be completing an undergraduate honors thesis as part of your program. You will want to begin research early so that you have plenty of time to develop your research interests and complete your project before it is time to write the actual paper. Starting early allows you the opportunity to try different research projects before you have to decide which you will pursue. As you apply for internships, fellowships, and to graduate programs, your application will be stronger if you can demonstrate that you have been involved for a significant amount of time in a research project that had clear goals or objectives. That is why so many WIU physics majors have been accepted in top level graduate programs and won national fellowships and scholarships in recent years.