Research Opportunities

Undergraduate research opportunities in the Department of Physics take different forms. Some students undertake research projects during the academic year and summers with physics or other faculty members. Many of these are thesis projects for either the Clark Honors College or the physics honors program.

Students are also encouraged to participate in National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REUs) which involve summer research at other institutions (REUs are structured for students to travel elsewhere). Finally, there are internships and other special programs run by UO science institutes.

Pine Mountain Observatory

Pine Mountain Observatory

The UO physics department’s Pine Mountain Observatory (PMO) near Millican in central Oregon hosts student-driven research and star viewing for the public. All physics majors are welcome to get involved in PMO outreach and some physics majors are able to work on research-level observing projects through the observatory.

For information on how to get involved in research at PMO, contact Dr. Scott Fisher.

Pine Mountain Observatory

Students working on a lab project

Advanced Projects Laboratory

In the Advanced Projects Lab, undergraduates use research-grade equipment as they explore the frontiers of modern physics. It’s a proving ground for students wondering if they’ve got what it takes to do research.

At many large universities, million-dollar scientific instruments are available only to graduate students and professors. However, the UO Department of Physics offers undergraduates access to this equipment in the lab. This provides a unique opportunity for undergraduate students to perform hands-on research while designing their own experiments.

The Advanced Projects Laboratory was designed to provide undergraduates with a true research experience, one that can’t be taught from a textbook.

Advanced Projects Lab

Student explaining work in a lab

Physics Research Groups

Physics students can get involved in faculty-led research through one of the many interdisciplinary research groups at the UO, including:

Institute for Fundamental Science

The Institute for Fundamental Science (IFS) enhances the experimental, theoretical, and astronomy research activities at the University of Oregon. The institute hosts visiting scientists, supports graduate and undergraduate student research, facilitates interaction between the experimental activities and theoretical investigations of IFS members, and fosters communication of research to the broader community.

IFS members have major involvement in international collaborations including the ATLAS and FASER Experiments at CERN, LIGO’s gravitational wave observatories, and others. We have vigorous programs of research in astronomy and astrophysics; condensed matter theory and statistical mechanics; data science; mathematics; particle theory; quantum information and quantum optics; and the International Linear Collider project.

Participating faculty:

  • Dietrich Belitz
  • James Brau
  • Spencer Chang
  • Tim Cohen
  • Ben Farr
  • Ray Frey
  • Laura Jeanty
  • Graham Kribs
  • Stephanie Majewski
  • Jens Noeckel
  • Jayson Paulose
  • David Strom
  • John Toner
  • Eric Torrence
  • Tien-Tien Yu

Institute for Fundamental Science

Material Science Institute

Materials science is the investigation of new materials and devices with the potential for scientific and technological applications. The advent of nanotechnology has created a new era for materials science, allowing scientists to observe and manipulate matter in ways that promise breakthroughs in virtually every industry. MSI scientists are committed to sustainability and human health and safety as guiding principles for this research.

Founded in 1985 as a State Center of Excellence, the purpose of the Materials Science Institute is to study the structure and properties of materials, provide education in the sciences of materials and serve Oregon as a resource in these sciences.

Participating faculty:

  • Benjamin Aleman
  • Eric Corwin
  • Dean Livelybrooks
  • Ben McMorran
  • Raghu Parthasarathy
  • Richard Taylor
  • John Toner

Material Science Institute

Oregon Center for Optical Molecular and Quantum Science

The Oregon Center for Optical, Molecular, and Quantum Science (OMQ) seeks to promote and facilitate research and education in the sciences wherever optics, spectroscopy, quantum science and the physical investigation of atomic and molecular processes are involved — in either fundamental aspects or technological applications. It provides administrative support and facilities to assist in carrying out scientific research, promotes scientific interactions amongst members and with the wider academic and industrial research and development communities. Students — undergraduate, master’s and PhD — are involved in all aspects of research at the center.

Participating faculty:

  • David Allcock
  • Benjamin Aleman
  • Ben McMorran
  • Jens Noeckel
  • Michael Raymer
  • Brian Smith
  • Daniel Steck
  • Steven van Enk
  • Hailin Wang
  • David Wineland

Oregon Center for Optical Molecular and Quantum Science

UO Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR)

The UO Summer Program for Undergraduate Research (SPUR) provides fellowship opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in research in life sciences laboratories at UO during the summer. SPUR trains students to become creative explorers, to grow further interest in and excitement for science, and to prepare for life science research careers.


NSF Summer Research Experience for Undergraduates

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program supports active research participation by undergraduate students in any of the areas of research funded by the National Science Foundation. REU projects involve students in meaningful ways in ongoing research programs or in research projects specifically designed for the REU program.

All REUs involve travel to other institutions. The Materials Science Institute at the UO hosts a summer REU program; however, it offers limited opportunities for UO students, as most participants come from elsewhere.

NSF REU Program

Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship

The Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) is designed to inspire undergraduate students to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) through a unique research experience that supports the mission of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.


Sample Undergraduate Research Plan

Year Terms Activities Information
Freshman Fall Join an Undergraduate Research Group (URG) comprising freshman through senior physics majors with similar research interests. Continue URG participation through the rest of your undergraduate program. Contact the undergraduate advisor about joining a URG.
Sophomore (freshman for strong students) Fall-winter Choose and apply to National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) programs. Visit the NSF REU web page. See also the UO Society of Physics Students web page. Watch for UO SPS seminars about REUs.
Sophomore (freshman for strong students) Summer Complete the REU program (10 weeks, beginning approximately the second week in June). Visit the NSF REU web page. See also the UO Society of Physics Students web page.
Sophomore or junior Spring through fall Meet with physics advisor about research. Email for an appointment.
Junior Fall-winter Take a reading course with prospective research advisor. Optional: Register for PHYS 405. Permission to Register forms available in physics office.
Junior Winter-spring Begin research in UO lab. Optional: Register for PHYS 401. Permission to Register forms available in physics office.
Junior Summer Continue research in UO lab. Optional: Register for PHYS 401. Permission to Register forms available in physics office.
Senior Fall Finish research in UO lab. Optional: Register for PHYS 401. Permission to Register forms available in physics office.
Senior Winter-spring Write honors thesis (optional). Register for PHYS 403. Permission to Register forms available in physics office.