Current projects

See the projects you can apply to join as part of the Laby Research Scholars Program this year.


Studies in Cultural Astronomy

Supervisor: Duane Hamacher
Keywords: Astrophysics

This project will look at a topic in cultural astronomy, with a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander star knowledge. Projects in this area may focus on the development of seasonal calendars, studies of astronomical knowledge, links between music and astronomy, dark sky studies, and related topics at this interdisciplinary area.

The SpIRIT nanosatellite - Australia's first space telescope

Supervisor: Michele Trenti
Keyword: Astrophysics

The SpIRIT (Space Industry – Responsive – Intelligent – Thermal) nanosatellite mission is the first project funded for launch in orbit by the Australian Space Agency, and the shoe-box sized satellite will carry a sophisticated gamma and x-ray instrument for high energy astrophysics. SpIRIT is expected to be operational by 2022, and it will contribute to detection of Gamma Ray Bursts and electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational-wave mergers, operating in conjunction with a European constellation of satellites (the HERMES scientific and technological pathfinders).

This internship will give the opportunity to join the SpIRIT mission team, led out of the School of Physics at UoM, and to gain direct experience on design and early development of a space mission. Specific projects possible for interns range from modeling and optimisation of science operations of the satellite to on-board software development and hands-on hardware experience in the newly established Melbourne Space Laboratory, where part of SpIRIT components are being designed and tested.

Measuring the geometry of the Universe with the Planck satellite

Supervisor: Christian Reichardt
Keyword: Astrophysics

The sound horizon in the photon-baryon plasma of the early Universe can be measured from the position of the acoustic peaks in the cosmic microwave background power spectrum. The angular size of the sound horizon tells us about the geometry of the Universe. In this project, you will measure the power spectrum of the Planck satellite maps, and look at the cosmological implications of that power spectrum measurement.

Using machine learning to reconstruct telescope pointing

Supervisor: Christian Reichardt
Keywords: Astrophysics

Figuring out where the telescope is pointed is a universal problem in astronomy, which has classically been solved by building a physical model for the telescope and how its shape deforms as a function of temperature, azimuthal direction, etc. Machine learning offers a potentially faster and easier short-cut. We have a dataset of the recorded positions, temperatures, etc, and also measurements of the actual pointing from known sources on the sky. This project will explore machine learning techniques and compare their performance (as quantified by the residual pointing errors) against an existing physically motivated pointing model for the SPTpol experiment.

Condensed Matter Physics

Diamond superconducting resonators

Supervisor: Steven Prawer
Keywords: Condensed Matter Physics

Diamond is a wide band-gap semiconductor with a range of remarkable mechanical, electronic, and optical properties. When doped heavily with boron, diamond exhibits metallic properties, and becomes superconducting at deep cryogenic temperatures (~2-8 K), with some theory to suggest this could be extended as high as room temperature. While nanocrystalline and polycrystalline superconducting diamond have been studied extensively, single-crystal material remains comparatively unexplored, and shows great potential for a raft of future applications including superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), or for low-noise microwave resonators which find application in quantum computing.

Recent progress in our group has allowed the growth of high-quality single-crystal superconducting diamond at a local facility, the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication. This project will explore the first steps towards fabricating and characterising microwave resonators in this material. The student will be involved with the design and computer simulation of coplanar waveguide type resonators with frequency on the order of 10 GHz. Using our laser micromachining tool, we will selectively mill away superconducting material to precisely define the geometry of a meandering waveguide and its input and output coupling gaps. After further cleanroom processing of the sample, the student will use our dilution refrigerator to cool the resonator to temperatures as low as 20 mK, and characterise its properties such as resonant frequency, coupling, and Q-factor using a vector network analyser. The dilution refrigerator is equipped with a 9 Tesla superconducting vector magnet, which may allow an appropriately designed resonator to be used for electron spin resonance measurements of nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centre defects in the diamond substrate.

Topological states of matter

Supervisor: Stephan Rachel
Keywords: Condensed Matter Physics

The discovery of topological insulators in 2005 has opened a new and exciting research field: topological materials. The quantum mechanical wavefunctions of such materials can be classified by topological invariants, and experiments reveal protected edge and surface states with unprecedented technological potential. In this project, you will learn the theoretical concepts of topological condensed matter theory. By applying them to a new material class you will be able to investigate the material’s topological properties.

Quantum Computing

Simulating spin chains on a quantum computer

Supervisor: Stephan Rachel
Keywords: Condensed Matter Physics, Quantum Computing

Early-stage Noisy Intermediate Scale Quantum Computer (NISQ) devices such as IBM’s quantum computers have become available to researchers in recent years and are steadily improving. Beyond applications in the field of quantum information, they also present an exciting new tool to physicists. In theory, quantum systems are best simulated on quantum computers. However, the nosiness of currently available machines makes it challenging to identify those systems that can be implemented as well as observables that provide us insight into interesting physics. In this project, you will learn the basics of digital quantum computation and simulate the physics of spin chains on one of IBM’s quantum computers.


Structural colour in beetles

Supervisor: Ann Roberts
Keywords: Optics

The stunning, iridescent colours seen in Christmas beetles arise from nano-structures within their shell. Multilayer stacks of alternating refractive index or cholesteric liquid crystals produce strong reflectance over specific wavelength bands producing a characteristic colour sensitive to angle of incidence and polarization. In research undertaken by collaborators in the School of Biosciences, there is mounting evidence of a similar spectral sensitivity in the infrared stimulating investigations into its role in the evolution of various species and its potential applications in bioinspired optics. This project will primarily involve modelling the reflection of visible and infrared light from beetle shells using different computational strategies. There may also be opportunities to participate in related laboratory work.

Imaging small biomolecules with free-electron lasers

Supervisor: Harry Quiney and Andrew Morgan
Keywords: Optics

Until recently, humankind has been unable to explore the atomic structure and dynamics of small biomolecules such as proteins and viruses in their native state. Thus we have been blind to many important processes that these molecules undergo, such as photosynthesis or how a virus capsid molecule (such as SARS‑CoV‑2) invades a human host cell. The problem is that biomolecules are damaged by the high energy radiation used to image them; and the greater the magnification, the more light is needed.

This is where the new generation of x-ray facilities, called Free-Electron Lasers, come to the rescue. They produce extremely short and powerful pulses of coherent x-ray radiation. These x-ray pulses are so powerful that the biomolecule explodes from the radiation dose, but they are so short that the atoms do not have time to move before an image has been captured.

In this project, you will model the 3D imaging process using specialised software developed in this group. You will attempt to answer key questions about the achievable resolution under different imaging conditions.

Particle Physics

Dark Matter direct detection: Data interpretation at SABRE

Supervisor: Elisabetta Barberio
Keywords: Particle physics

The DAMA/LIBRA experiment in Italy has seen a persistent dark matter particle signal with a  significance well beyond a possible statistical fluctuation. The SABRE South experiment in Australia is poised to confirm or refuse this signal.

To confirm or refuse the DAMA/LIBRA signal the  SABRE experiment needs have under control all possible sources of background (noise) that can mimic the dark matter signal. In particular, we need to study the background related to the location of the SABRE experiment,  at 1 km underground in the Stawell Gold Mine in Victoria. This project will involve the modelling of background processes that can mimic the dark matter signal to prepare the  SABRE experiment data analysis. Basic knowledge of python will be useful for this project.