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Research Opportunities

**Note: This page contains research opportunities for the summer of 2019. NIST plans to post the 2020 research opportunities soon. 

Applied Chemicals and Materials Division

647-1 Development of Global Optimization Techniques 
Ian Bell, 303-497-6970, ihb[at]

The need for global optimization of non-convex functions is ubiquitous throughout the worlds of science and engineering.  There are many approaches that have been developed for this challenging task, among which are nature-inspired techniques like evolutionary optimization, particle swarm optimization and so on.  We are looking for a student with an interest in optimization of nonlinear functions to improve our capabilities in global optimization.  Though we are primarily focused on the development of models for thermophysical properties, this project takes a more broad view of optimization, and looks to extend existing generalized open-source optimization tools developed in our group.  Experience with C++ and/or Python is preferred, but not required.

647-2 Properties of Absorbent Materials Relevant to New Breath Sampling Devices  
Kavita Jeerage, 303-497-4968, jeerage[at]

Sorbent materials such as polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) are used to capture hydrophobic chemicals in passive air sampling devices, solid phase microextraction devices, and even breath collection devices. Determining the concentration of chemicals of interest in the original air or breath sample requires knowing its partition coefficient. The SURF student will determine partition coefficients for aromatic chemicals by gas chromatography retention time measurements. Students with analytical chemistry or chemical engineering backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

647-3 Vapor Pressure Measurements of Aroma Compounds 
Tara Lovesteady, 303-497-5614, lovestead[at]

Terpenes are a large group of volatile hydrocarbons produced by trees, medicinal plants, and some insects. They have many potential applications, including as natural agricultural pesticides, in the fragrance and flavoring industries, and even as alternative fuels. Designing and optimizing industrial processes for terpenes of interest requires knowing their vapor pressures. The SURF student will determine vapor pressures with a custom-built apparatus and will utilize gas chromatography with flame ionization detection. Students with analytical chemistry or chemical engineering backgrounds are encouraged to apply.

647-4 Behavior of Chemical Systems Containing Electrolytes
Vladimir Diky, 303-497-5273 diky[at]

Chemical systems containing electrolytes show complex and subtle phase and property behavior.  Our group models chemical systems by applying a combination of data science and fundamental modeling, and is expanding into this area. An affiliate working with us will gain experience in data structuring, experimental validation and fundamental understanding of these systems. Opportunities exist for experienced programmers as well as those more inclined toward pen-and-paper or Excel.

647-5 Surveying Salt Bridges Involving Histidine in the Protein Databank
Demian Riccardi, 303-497-4648, riccardi[at]

The pKas of the histidine (HIS) and aspartic acid (ASP) sidechains result in a cost of ~10 kJ/mol for the HIS to ASP proton transfer. Heterogeneous electrostatic environments, found in proteins, greatly modulate this free energy difference. This project will survey the Protein Databank for HIS/ASP salt bridges to determine factors that promote or perturb these interactions. The ideal candidate will have a strong interest in biophysical chemistry and have programming experience.

Public Safety Communications Research Division

671-1 Virtual and Augmented Reality for Public Safety
Jack Lewis, 303-497-5354, jack.lewis[at]

The project will task the student to work in either virtual or augmented reality and develop assets for use in first responder scenarios. The student should be familiar with Unity or Unreal (preferred) and have experience in level design, 3D graphics/modeling, game audio, animation, asset creation, or AR development. Candidates should link to their portfolios showcasing previous work.

671-2  Internet of Things (IoT) data security
Chris Nelsen, 303-497-3728, chris.nelsen[at]

The rapid proliferation of internet-connected devices and rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) come with great anticipation. These newly connected devices bring the promise of enhanced public safety information collection, sharing, and analysis.  Researching the processes to protect sensitive data will help ensure first responders cultivate trust in the innovative tools that are currently being developed.  A SURF student will research different scenarios, hardware, and processes for IoT data transmittal and storage to provide an in-depth analysis, demonstrating the risks associated with these processes.  This analysis will show the ability to compromise the data or provide access to unintended recipients, implications of the data being compromised, and best practices to implement these devices in a first responder community.  Special attention will be dedicated to how these risks affect law enforcement and justice system requirements for “chain of custody” for data collected from IoT devices.

671-3  Open Innovation Challenge Research and Business Systems
Joanne Krumel and Terese Manley, 303-497-36834,joanne.krumel[at]

PSCR’s Open Innovation (OI) Team focuses on advancing public safety communications research by leveraging the expertise and innovative solutions from a diverse array of contributors and collaborators across the globe. The SURF participant will work with the OI Team on concept and design research for new prize challenges; version control and auditing of the OI Team’s standard operating procedure (SOP); targeting outreach and communications; and developing business solutions including technology transfer. The SURF participant will work closely with OI prize managers and engineers to refine ideas and develop presentation materials. For the SOP version control and audit, the participant will work closely with the OI’s project manager using Huddle, Salesforce, and other internal tools.

671-4 PSCR IoT Protocol Analysis and System
Donald Harriss and Allison Kahn, 303-497-5880, don.harriss[at]

The Internet of Things (IoT) remains a desegregated technology with deficiencies that inhibit or limit use in First Responder Networks.  Limitations include lack of standardization among data types and formats, vendor specific communications protocols, weak security mechanisms and poor ruggedization or resilience implementations.  This project will study these deficiencies and focus on protocol analysis such as Bluetooth, Zigbee, WiFi and other wireless standards.  A comparison matrix ranking usability and standards implementation shall be conducted in conjunction with integration potentials.  System adaptation will be conducted against laboratory systems, such as log collectors, protocol analyzers, IoT publishers and IoT dashboards.  A student in this project will have to opportunity to analyze IoT protocols, utilize network or socket application development and integrate IoT devices into a ubiquitous, presentable and usable display center.

 RF Technology Division

672-1 Electromagnetic Measurements of Microfluidics for Personalized Medicine
Nathan Orloff and Chris Long, 303-497-4938, orloff[at]

The continued development of personalized medicine and point-of-care diagnostics depends on rapid, accurate, high-throughput measurements tailored for specific applications. We have developed chip-based electromagnetic techniques incorporating microfluidics to characterize the response of biomolecules in solution and on surfaces. The student would work in concert with NIST staff to first learn about multi-physics simulation techniques to characterize biomolecule-electronic interfaces. Student activities include programming, multi-physics simulations and microwave microfluidics measurements.

Applied Physics Division

686-1 Control Systems for Precision MRI
Megan Poorman and Michele Martin, 303-497-3532, megan.poorman[at]

This project focuses on developing systems to further enhance NIST’s efforts in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The NIST MRI is a precision measurement tool and utilizes options such as temperature control, sample placement, and software analysis to ensure high-value data. The applicant will be expected to design and develop tools to provide better control of parameters, such as position, and have knowledge of programming/hardware interfacing.The student will learn about MRI and how to operate the NIST MRI system while verifying their tools have achieved the desired results.

686-2 Microwave Near-Field Imaging of One- and Two-Dimensional Nanoscale Materials
Thomas M. Wallis, 303-497-5089, mwallis[at]

Emerging 1D and 2D nanomaterials are of fundamental interest for their unique quantum mechanical properties and will impact a wide variety of applications, including photonics, nanoelectronics, and advanced computation. We combine scanning probe microscopy with microwave techniques to perform electrical characterization and imaging of such novel materials with nanometer spatial resolution.  This opportunity will provide ample hands-on laboratory experience in atomic force microscopy (AFM) and microwave electronic techniques. Some experience with AFM is highly desirable.

Quantum Electromagnetics Division

687-1 Design, fabrication, and testing of superconducting resonators for quantum transduction
Matthew Pufall and Ian Haygood, 303-497-3440, ian.haygood[at]

Practical quantum computing will likely require efficient conversion between microwave and optical photons. Ferrimagnetic YIG spheres in a microwave cavity have emerged as a promising means for this conversion. In this project, the student will learn how to design and model high-Q, two-dimensional superconducting microwave resonators using finite element software, i.e. COMSOL, ANSYS, SONNET. Promising resonators will be fabricated in the clean room from high temperature superconductors and measured at cryogenic temperatures.

Time and Frequency Division

688-1 Development of Chip-Scale Atom Traps 
Kaitlin Moore, 303-497-4334, kaitlin.moore[at]

Portable, trapped-atom-based instruments in battery-operable packages could bring about dramatic new applications in sensing, navigation, and communications.  Toward this goal, we are developing chip-scale trapped-atom platforms based on magneto-optical trapping.  A student working on this project will practice a broad range of techniques needed for the long-term development of compact trapped-atom systems, including lasers and optics, measurement methods, electronics, atomic theory, and vacuum systems.

688-2 Exploring how quantum nonlinear photonics makes a frequency comb
Scott Papp, 303-497-3822, scott.papp[at]

A student involved in this project will carry out experimental research on optical frequency combs – ultraprecise rulers for light waves – that are built with photonic-chip technology. These new, ultraportable chip devices leverage fundamental coupling of light and nonlinear optical materials to directly generate frequency comb teeth. This student would be exposed to and learn about photonic-chip devices and their free-space and fiber coupling optics, experimental measurements on ultrafast pulses and visible to infrared spectra, numerical methods for nonlinear optical processes photonic integrated circuit design, and other experimental skills.

688-3 Optical Atomic Clocks 
Andrew Ludlow, 303-497-4972, andrew.ludlow[at]

The student will aid in the development of next-generation optical atomic clocks. Many techniques of atomic physics will be introduced, including laser cooling, magneto-optical trapping, optical lattices, laser stabilization, ultra-high resolution spectroscopy, and quantum manipulation and control. The student will gain experience working with different laser systems and atom-laser intectation.

Applied and Computational Mathematics Division

771-Characterization of Quantum Computers 
Scott Glancy, 303-497-3369, sglancy[at]

The development of experimental quantum computers is rapidly accelerating, with increasing numbers of quantum bits and operations with higher fidelities.  However, characterization of these devices is a challenging statistical problem.  We are developing algorithms and writing software to characterize the quantum bits and logic operations in quantum experiments at NIST.  This will be a good opportunity to gain practical programming experience and learn both quantum theory and statistics.


Created September 28, 2009, Updated December 3, 2019