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Research Opportunities

The research opportunities for the 2023 SURF Boulder program are listed below. All opportunities are designed to be completed in person. Thus, participants are required to be located near the Boulder area and may receive assistance with relocation. Prospective applicants are required to list their top six preferences for research opportunities in the online questions section of the application available on

Communications Technology Laboratory (CTL)

RF Technology Division (Div 672)

672-1 Building the Quantum Internet with Microwave-Optical Quantum Transducers
Tasshi Dennis, 303-497-3507, tasshi.dennis [at]
Networking superconducting quantum computers will allow them to scale and reach unprecedented capacity far beyond classical computers. We are creating remote microwave entanglement with optical two-mode squeezed states and microwave-optical transducers. This in-person opportunity involves characterization of a mechanical membrane transducer operated at millikelvin temperatures to understand thresholds for network operation. We offer hands-on experience with quantum optics, microwave electronics, control systems, and cryogenics. [In-person opportunity]

672-2 Microwave Microfluidics Analysis of Electrochemical Reactions
Jacob Pawlik, 303-497-3015, jacob.pawlik [at]
Electrochemical synthesis plays an important part in chemical manufacturing with over $200 billion in global sales annually. Increasingly, electro-synthesis is being used to generate valuable chemical products unachievable with conventional synthesis. However, electrochemical reaction mechanisms are complex and difficult to study, restricting improvements in yield and cost efficiency. Our group is developing a broadband impedance technique based on microwave microfluidic spectroscopy to improve analysis of electro-synthesis reactions. The student will be involved in the electrochemical testing, characterization, and optimization of the new electroanalytical technique. Experience in electrochemical methods is preferred. [In-person opportunity]

672-3 Optical DC to 1 THz Waveform Generation
Bryan Bosworth, 303-497-5403, bryan.bosworth [at]
Emerging mmWave technologies for 6G and beyond will require new mmWave sources with unprecedented bandwidth, precision, and programmability. NIST is currently integrating optical frequency combs, state-of-the-art THz photodiodes, THz amplifiers, and electronics to solve this challenge, but it will be impossible without solutions such as a novel 10 path fiber laser interferometer and control system for coherent mmWave combination. This in-person project will let the student solve problems in ultrafast optics, fiber interferometry, polarization diversity detection, signal processing, controls, and FPGA/microcontroller design to create a prototype instrument that will be in continuous use in exciting new research areas. Students with sufficient experience will have near complete freedom to design and manufacture the optics, electronics, and mechanics of their instrument.[In-person opportunity]

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Information Technology Laboratory (ITL)

Applied and Computational Mathematics Division (Div 771)

771-1 Geometric Interpretations for Imaging and Shape Analysis
Zach Grey, 303-497-6843, zachary.grey [at] 
We'll be working in-person with scientific computing and geometric methods in applications ranging from computer vision to material science and engineering, e.g. statistics of microstructures and designing complex 2D/3D wind turbine blade geometries. The position requires a candidate curious to explore some or all of the following topics in applied mathematics: (i) novel visualization methods, (ii) abstractions of calculus over curves and surfaces, (iii) model-parameter dimension reduction, and (iv) comparisons with generative models using artificial intelligence methods. Familiarity with linear algebra and dynamical systems would be very helpful. Programming experience in Python/Matlab is essential. [In-person opportunity]

771-2 Evaluating Light Scattering for Information Displays
John Penczek, 303-497-3159, john.penczek [at] 
This in-person project will establish an automated 5-axis motion system for light scattering measurements. This system will be used to evaluate the light scattering properties of advanced technology reflective, emissive, and transparent electronic information displays. The candidate should be familiar with Matlab and Python, and be comfortable working hands-on with equipment.<br> [In-person opportunity]

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Material Measurement Laboratory (MML)

Applied Chemicals and Materials Division (Div 647)

647-1 Thermodynamic Evaluations Using Web Protocols
Vladimir Diky, 303-497-4124, diky [at]
A large amount of trusted thermodynamic and thermophysical data is available from the Internet. They are provided by scientific organizations motivated to share those data with the community. The Thermodynamics Research Center (TRC) at NIST is one of the providers of such databases [1]. However, TRC data analysis software such as ThermoData Engine (TDE) [2] works with local data sources such as local and network databases or data files. Data exchange using Web protocols would be a useful additional option for TDE. To implement it, appropriate functions should be developed in TDE, as well as Web interfaces and protocols for the dispaly and review of the various data sources. Web-based tool development would be a major component of this work. A successful candidate should have basic knowledge of thermodynamics and experience in Web development. [1] NIST/TRC - ThermoML , [2] NIST ThermoData Engine [In-person opportunity]

647-2 Molecular Dynamics Simulations of Condensed-Phase Biophysical/Aqueous Systems
Demian Riccardi, 303-497-4750, dmr3 [at]
This is an in-person opportunity. We have several ongoing and exciting molecular modeling research projects. We use computational methods on multiple scales ranging from high-level quantum chemistry to blazingly fast molecular dynamics simulations on GPUs. Depending on the interest of the candidate, we will use python libraries to analyze allostery in a kinase or the solvation of ionizable molecules in water. The ideal candidate will have a strong interest in molecular dynamics simulations, coursework in chemistry, physics, and biochemistry (do you know the amino acids by name?), and some experience with Python in a Linux environment. [In-person opportunity]

647-3 Development of a Forensic Technique to Detect Arson
Jennifer Berry, 303-497-7033, jennnifer.berry [at]
Forensics analysts can determine if a structural fire was caused by arson through concentrating vapors above fire debris and eluting them for measurement by gas chromatograph–mass spectrometry (GC-MS). We are developing an alternative technique for analysts to use that is safer and faster than current methods but requires optimization for different ignitable liquids and substrates. This project increases laboratory skills through instrument development, sample processing, and GC-MS analysis. [In-person opportunity]

647-4 Machine Learning in Photopolymer 3D Printing
Jason Killgore, 303-497-4729, jason.killgore [at]
This is an in-person opportunity. 3D printing enables precise control of billions of individual voxels (volume pixels). Understanding the interactions between voxels is critical for high resolution printing. In this project we will leverage big data and machine learning to create models of the 3D printing process. The student will learn hands-on 3D printing, microscale characterization, and machine learning. Open to diverse backgrounds including: engineering, chemistry, materials science, and computer science. [In-person opportunity]

647-5 Supercritical CO2 Corrosion of Pipelines
May Martin, 303-497-5235, may.martin [at]
As carbon capture and sequestration is increasingly viewed as a vital part of a carbon neutral energy system, the transport of carbon from its capture point to the sequestration point needs to be considered.&nbsp; Steel pipelines are the most efficient means of transporting the CO2.&nbsp; However, steels are susceptible to corrosion by CO¬2, especially if certain impurities, such as water, are present.&nbsp; The candidate would have the opportunity to work in a specially design CO2 corrosion facility, setting up the instrumentation and running experiments. [In-person opportunity]

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Physical Measurement Laboratory (PML)

Applied Physics Division (Div 686)

686-1 Calibrating Scales to Weigh Photons
Paul Williams, 303-497-3805, paul.williams [at]
Light has momentum, and a laser’s power can be measured from the force of its light pushing on a mirror. We measure huge laser powers with simply a force balance and mirror. This measurement relies on the accuracy of the scale’s calibration for small forces (down to a few nanonewtons). We are building a robotic mass calibration system for this mass calibration of these balances for radiation pressure measurements. The student will build a robotic mass-transfer device using precision translation stages, write integration software, and test operation. [In-person opportunity].

686-2 Measuring Metal-Melting Lasers at Their Focus
Brian Simonds, 303-497-3270, brian.simonds [at]
Lasers are used as manufacturing tools to melt metal. Focused laser beams cut steel, weld cars and smartphones, and 3D print metal parts. All this relies on delivering focused laser power with intensities hundreds of times stronger than the surface of the sun. However, manufacturers need to accurately measure the power distribution at this incredibly intense focus. The student will work with NIST researchers to build an instrument for this purpose. The work involves design, assembly, and testing of optics hardware and writing control/analysis software. [In-person opportunity]

686-3 Microwave Near-Field Imaging of Low-Dimensional Nanoscale Materials
T. Mitch Wallis and Pavel Kabos, 303-497-5089, mwallis [at]
Emerging 1D and 2D nanomaterials are of fundamental interest for their unique electromagnetic and quantum mechanical properties, and will impact a wide variety of applications, including photonics and nanoelectronics. We combine scanning probe microscopy with microwave techniques to perform characterization of such 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. [In-person opportunity]

686-4 Magnetic Biosensors
Gary Zabow, 303-497-4657, zabow [at]
We have several ongoing magnetic sensor projects based on magnetic nano- or microparticles, smart hydrogels, and microfluidics. Depending on interest, the candidate may work on shape-changing magnetic-hydrogel composites for analyte detection or magnetic-particle microfluidics assays, gaining experience in hydrogels, magnetism and magnetic particles. The ideal candidate has prior lab experience and at least basic knowledge in chemistry and/or physics. [In-person opportunity]

686-5 MRI of Tumor Mimics with Quantitative and Radiomic Analysis
Stephen Russek, 303-497-5097, stephen.russek [at]
Analysis of tumor structure and morphology is critical to determine treatment and its efficacy. MRI can provide quantitative information on tumor structure including water diffusivity, tissue perfusion, and cell density. Radiomic analysis can be used to characterize complex tumor structure such as shape, textures, fractal features, and entropy. This opportunity involves MRI of tumor mimics, being developed for medical standards, on a pre-clinical scanner and applying quantitative mapping and radiomic characterization techniques. The robustness of the tumor parameters will be tested by varying scan protocols, tumor orientation, and numerical analysis techniques. [In-person opportunity] 

686-6 MRI Sequence and Reconstruction Development
Stephen Ogier and Katy Keenan, 303-497-3178, stephen.ogier [at]
NIST has a variety of NMR and MRI systems operating across a variety of sizes and field strengths, including a low-field point-of-care MRI system. Point-of-care MRI has the potential to make MRI more accessible where it is most needed. Being able to run similar protocols across different systems enables us to study relaxation and other phenomena across a wide range of situations. This opportunity involves developing tools for sequence development, image reconstruction, and post-processing and analysis. The ideal candidate has programming experience and some familiarity with MRI. [In-person opportunity]

Quantum Electromagnetics Division (Div 687)

687-1 Software to Support Gamma-ray Spectrometry
Daniel Becker, 303-497-6824, daniel.becker [at]
This is an in-person opportunity. The NIST/CU Quantum Sensors Group makes detectors for a wide range of photon energies, including gamma-ray detectors for applications in nuclear security and safeguards. Our superconducting detectors provide a unique capability of measuring photon energies to within 1 part per thousand or better, while also offering quantum efficiencies of ~ 40 % at 100 keV. We have built software tools for processing of raw data and analysis of gamma-ray spectra, but this software needs improvements in flexibility and user interface to enhance its value to both NIST scientists and users of our spectrometers deployed at other national labs. While enhancing existing software and creating new software applications, the student will learn the basics of how our superconducting detectors work, learn how gamma-ray signatures provide quantitative measurements of composition of materials relevant to the nuclear fuel cycle, and gain experience with the challenges of analyzing and processing real-world data. Experience in a high-level programming language is required, with Python preferred. [In-person opportunity]

687-2 Building an Ultra-Dark Testbed for Cryogenic Far-Infrared Detectors
Jake Connors, 303-497-3250, jake.connors [at]
Future far-infrared space telescopes will require detectors at least an order of magnitude more sensitive than what is currently available. Alongside NIST physicists, the student will aid in the development of a test facility sufficiently “dark” to characterize these ultra-low-noise detectors. Work could include the design, fabrication and integration into a sub-K cryostat one of several critical components, from special light-tight packaging, electrical and mechanical feedthroughs, to shuttered cryogenic optical calibration targets. [In-person opportunity]

Time and Frequency Division (Div 688)

688-1 Measuring Superconducting Circuits with Femtosecond Optical Pulses
Franklyn Quinlan, 303-497-4580, fquinlan [at]
This in-person project combines state-of-the-art optical, electro-optical, and superconducting circuit technologies to enable new capabilities in cryogenic and quantum information systems. The student will work with a team of researchers to use femtosecond-duration optical pulses to sample and reconstruct microwave signals directly in a cryogenic environment. In this project, the student will learn about ultrashort pulsed laser sources, optical-to-electrical and electrical-to-optical conversion, cryogenic systems, and quantum information systems. [In-person opportunity]

688-2 Frequency-Comb-Calibrated Laser Heterodyne Radiometry for Astronomy and Greenhouse Gas Monitoring
Ryan Cole, 303-497-4692, ryan.cole [at]
Laser heterodyne radiometry (LHR) leverages interference between thermal light and a continuous-wave laser to measure the optical spectrum of the thermal light. Our group recently combined LHR with optical frequency comb technology to enable spectroscopy of sunlight with high stability and absolute frequency accuracy. We are using this approach to make sensitive measurements of solar and atmospheric absorption transitions that can be used to test models for solar physics, improve exoplanet detection methods, and make high-precision measurements of atmospheric greenhouse gases. A student working on this project will help test, operate and improve the LHR system, and will gain experience with laser/optics, absorption spectroscopy, and analysis of spectroscopic measurements. The student will work in-person at NIST Boulder. Some experience with Python preferred. [In-person opportunity]

688-3 Software Applications to Support the NIST Internet Time Service
Judah Levine, 303-497-3903, judah.levine [at]
The NIST Time and Frequency Division operates time servers at multiple locations that respond to requests for time in a number of formats. A student working in this program will learn the basics of distributing time information in digital formats and in monitoring the performance of the service in near real time. The student will develop applications that support these requirements. Some experience with programming in a high level language (such as Python or equivalent) is necessary. [In-person opportunity]

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Created September 28, 2009, Updated February 1, 2023