NSERC Undergraduate Research Awards

Information about eligibily and procedure

  • Find out more about the awards
  • The application is available exclusively through the NSERC's website.
  • Students must contact a potential supervisor prior to applying.
  • Some professors describe multiple projects.  Click the links below...
  • APPLICATION DEADLINE: February 1st, 2019


List of projects in Physics by supervisor

Antonio Badolato

1. Genetic Nanophotonics Project

Photonic crystal nanocavities (PCNs) are a quintessential element of integrated photonic devices. Thanks to ultra-high quality factors and mode volumes close to the diffraction limit, these devices hold promise in a wide range of applications including non-classical light generation, all-optical computational paradigms, solid-state cavity quantum electrodynamics, and sensing. Starting from a two-dimensional PCN consisting of a lattice of air holes etched in a dielectric slab, an optical cavity can be created by introducing a point-like defect, e.g., one or few missing or shifted holes in the otherwise periodic structure. A major effort during the last decade has been devoted to the optimization of these structures, in particular through the maximization of the quality factor (Q) and the minimization of the volume (V) of the cavity mode, as optical nonlinearities, Purcell effect, and radiation-matter coupling all depend directly on Q/V. Recently, my research group has demonstrated, for the first time, the experimental realization of ultra-high Q PCNs based on genetic optimization algorithm. Our design drastically improved the performance of the conventional PCNs as experimentally confirmed by direct measurement of Q = 2 106 in a silicon-based photonic crystal membrane. Our devices rank among the highest Q/V ratios ever reported in PCNs.

In this project, the student will learn how to simulate simple nanocavities and how to measure the Q-factor of PCNs via resonant cross-polarization scattering spectroscopy. In this setting, using the vertical-direction as reference, we excited with a laser beam linearly polarized at +45 and collected at -45 achieving precise control over the extinction of the reflected laser light. While scanning, the laser wavelength will be calibrated through the simultaneous measurement of the interference fringes of an interferometer. This technique has a broad application in spectroscopy and is particularly suited for measuring PCNs with ultra-high Qs, because it does not require any evanescent coupling and thus directly yields the intrinsic Q.

2. Photonic Quantum Technology Project

On-demand, high repetition rate sources of indistinguishable, polarized single photons working near room temperature are key components in future on-chip photonic quantum technologies. Color centers in silicon carbide (SiC) and defects in two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) offer very promising and sill largely unexplored candidates as on-chip quantum emitters for single photon sources. The narrow linewidth of recently identified optically active defects in those materials is particularly appealing for realizing the transform-limited sources necessary for quantum interference.

In this project, the student will learn how to use laser spectroscopy techniques able to characterize coherence properties of single color centers in SiC and TMDs at/near room-temperature. More specifically, the coherence length at room temperature of such centers will be directly measured using a scanning Michelson interferometer. By varying the path length in the interferometer about the 0th order fringe position the measurement of the change in interference fringe contrast as a function of path length will yield a direct measurement of the single photons' coherence length. Single photons will be coupled from the confocal microscope to the interferometer using a single-mode optical fibers.

Antonio Badolato
801 King Edward, room N205 A

Xiaoyi Bao

1. High speed random number generator based on random fiber laser

The sub-wavelength random grating will be designed as randomly distributed feedback for the random fiber laser to remove the phase correlation of the pump laser with random varying feature, which allows broadband random number generator in GHz level.

2. Development of in-fiber structures based low noise laser for ultrasound detection

We are developing random period gratings in fibers and in-fiber interferometers in speciality fibers as the purpose of the optical filter to reduce the intensity and frequency noises of the the laser, in addition to the filter effect, the in-fiber structured fibers also act as a sensor for ultrasound detection with high frequency and high sensitivity.  Such a low noise and narrow linewidth lasers can be used as light source for highly coherent interferometry.

Xiaoyi Bao
25 Templeton, room 348

Robert Boyd

1. Highly nonlinear interactions between light and a dense atomic vapour

Under certain conditions, light pulses travelling through an atomic vapour can exhibit superluminal velocities (fast light) or velocities much smaller than the speed of light in vacuum (slow light). In this project we will investigate different nonlinear phenomena that arise from the interactions between light and a dense collection of Rubidium atoms under slow-light and fast-light conditions. The work will involve setting up experiments, where the properties of an ultra-stable laser beam and of a dense atomic vapour are accurately controlled to generate strong nonlinear optical effects. It will also involve performing numerical simulations using Matlab to compare the experimental results with theoretical predictions.

2. Development of photonic and plasmonic devices through nanofabrication

Photonic devices with feature sizes on the order of an optical wavelength or even smaller take advantage of the wave properties of light to create ultra-compact systems that precisely engineer which modes of light can exist within them. Such devices can be engineered to slow or stop the propagation of light, manipulate and enhance local optical fields and observe nonlinear optical phenomena at low input powers. Research in this field can be applied to areas such as lab-on-chip spectroscopy and integrated all-optical communication. A project in this area could include the design, simulation, fabrication and performance characterization of a various nanostructured optical devices, such as plasmonic nano-antennas, ring resonator-based devices, or photonic crystals.

3. Optical studies of nanostructured surfaces for biomedical sensing

Planar chiral plasmonic metamaterials (CPMs) are nanostructured surfaces that offer tremendous potential for the ultra-sensitive optical detection of the handedness of chiral molecules adsorbed on their surface. In this project, we will optimize the design of such a CPM by simulating the electric field distribution and chirality at the surface, using a commercially available finite difference time domain (FDTD) software. The experimental work will involve the characterization of the chiral response of the CPM in the presence of chiral molecules adsorbed on the surface by means of UV-visible circular dichroism (CD) spectroscopy and second harmonic generation (SHG) microscopy. The objective is to quantify the change in the SHG intensity and polarization when chiral molecules are adhered to the surface and compare with CD measurements.

4. Fundamental and applied studies of the quantum properties of light

Photons possess individual degrees of freedom such as wavenumber, spin angular momentum, orbital angular momentum and radial momentum. These degrees of freedom are respectively associated with the energy, vectorial feature, intensity and phase structures of the azimuthal mode and that of the radial mode of a photon. The quantum nature of the first three degrees of freedom, i.e. the wavenumber, spin and orbital angular momenta, has been well studied during the last few decades. However, the radial momentum has been neglected in literature due to its difficult generation and unknown governed quantum symmetry. We have just verified experimentally that this degree of freedom also renders a quantum nature. Therefore in addition to the already known internal states, photons can also be labeled with the radialmode. Moreover, combining the radial mode with a spin and orbital angular momentum provides super-dense information coding, which leads to a high-rate information transmission in classical and quantum communications.

We aim to implement the radial mode as an external “unknown” internal state of a photon to encode information, which is robust against eavesdropping. This requires preliminary theoretical and experimental study of quantum state tomography and quantum key distribution in this novel unbounded Hilbert space, which will be the goal of our project.

Robert Boyd
ARC 456

Thomas Brabec

Strong field physics and attosecond science in the condensed matter phase

In the presence of intense field, electrons and holes are generated in the valence and conduction band of solids, respectively. The electrons and holes can absorb energy in the laser field, which has been used for a long time for micro-machining and modification of solids. Recently, it has been shown that this process can also be used for high-harmonic-generation (HHG) and for attosecond pulse generation. This opens a new area with unprecedented opportunities to temporally resolve ultrafast processes in the condensed matter phase.

In this project we will investigate a 1D model solid quantum mechanically with the numerical method of time-dependent finite-difference integration. Questions to be investigated are among many others: What is role of the surface in the process of HHG? How does HHG change in a transition from an ordered to a disordered medium? What is the role of higher conduction bands in HHG?

The student will develop a very good working knowledge of the fundamental principles underlying solid state physics and ultrafast dynamics. The simple 1D code gives visible access to many important properties of solids (e.g. band structure, Bloch functions) and thus allows learning through “seeing is believing”.

Thomas Brabec
25 Templeton, room 313

Serge Desgreniers

1. Condensed Matter at Extreme Conditions: Solid-to-Solid Phase Transition Study by Hyperspectral Imaging

With this research internship, you will learn and use mid- and far-infrared light (THz) spectroscopy and hyperspectral imaging to study phase transitions in solids submitted to extreme pressure (100 GPa) and temperature (5000K) conditions.  This project is well suited for self-motivated students with strong interests in experimental physics. This project will take place at the Laboratoire de physique des solides denses (LPSD) and the Centre for Advanced Materials Research located in the Advanced Research Complex at the University of Ottawa.

2. Condensed Matter at Extreme Conditions: Instrumentation Development

With this research internship, you will learn to program in LabView for interfacing and controlling instruments. The main goal is to help to develop a new instrument which will allow combined real-time measurements of laser-induced photoluminescence, vibrational spectroscopy as well as imaging. This new instrument will be used for detailed studies of transitions induced by extreme pressure (100 GPa) and temperature (5000K) conditions in the condensed state. This project is well suited for self-motivated students with strong interests in experimental physics. This project will take place at the Laboratoire de physique des solides denses (LPSD) and the Centre for Advanced Materials Research located in the Advanced Research Complex at the University of Ottawa.

3.Condensed Matter at Extreme Conditions: Diamond-based Sensors and Devices

With this research internship, you will help elaborating diamond-based sensors and devices for probing condensed matter at extreme pressure (100 GPa) and temperature (10K) conditions. Diamond sensors and devices will be fabricated and used to investigate electrical transport measurements in novel dense materials at low temperatures. This project is well suited for self-motivated students with strong interests in experimental physics. This project will take place at the Laboratoire de physique des solides denses (LPSD) and the Centre for Advanced Materials Research located in the Advanced Research Complex at the University of Ottawa.

Serge Desgreniers
25 Templeton, room 506

Michel Godin

Molecular and Cellular Biosensing at the Micro and Nano Scales – Michel Godin Laboratory

Our research seeks to use micro- and nano-scale physics to design new sensing and manipulation platforms that can detect, analyze and process biological material, such as cells, viruses and biomolecules including protein and DNA.  By manipulating biological samples at the micro- and nano-scales, we are able to significantly increase detection sensitivity and improve sample manipulation capabilities by exploiting phenomena that dominate at these reduced length scales.  Our laboratory is equipped to microfabricate microchips that integrate microfluidic channels with cutting-edge sensors.  Our work is motivated by the need for new approaches to medical diagnostics (detection of disease biomarkers), to cancer screening by rare cell detection and to environmental monitoring.  Moreover, these same platforms offer new realtime quantitative analytical methods used to conduct interesting biophysics, even at the single cell level.  We are currently developing small-scale technologies used to trap stem cells in hydrogel micro-environments and studying the translocation of single molecules through nanofluidic channels!

We are looking for motivated undergraduate students to work on one of several projects.  Students will be involved in various aspects of microfluidic device fabrication and validation with biological samples.  Projects are very multidisciplinary, combining physics, biochemistry and engineering.

If you are interested in discussing potential project, please contact me by email at mgodin@uOttawa.ca. You can also visit our research website at http://godinlab.uottawa.ca

Potential projects include:

  • Stem cell encapsulation using a microfluidic device for regenerative medicine applications:  You will make and use a microchip to capture individual stem cells in micro-cocoons!
  • Trapping DNA and proteins in nanolitre droplets for sequential analysis using microfluidic on-chip sensors

Michel Godin
801 King Edward, room N205 H

Delphine Gourdon

1. Characterizing the friction and lubrication of lubricin mimetics

Healthy articular joints exhibit highly efficient lubrication, i.e. extremely low friction coefficients that are accompanied by strong resistance to wear. Lubricin is a prominent component of synovial fluid that has been recognized to have a major lubricating role in cartilage and loss of lubricin has been linked with diseases such as osteoarthritis. Consequently, when joint disease or joint replacement leads to increased friction and surface damage in the joint, robust synthetic lubricin alternatives that could be used therapeutically to improve lubrication and surface protection are needed.

Lubricin has a specific “brush” architecture, which will be mimicked by our coworker at Cornell University who will synthesize a library of polymers with varied backbone length, brush dimensions and binding units’ distribution.

In this project, the student will learn how to use a unique tool called the Surface Forces Apparatus (SFA) to characterize the friction, lubrication, and adhesion of three different types of lubricin mimetics when they are confined between atomically smooth mica surfaces and sheared past each other (under various compressive loads and shearing velocities recapitulating joints conditions).

The date sets obtained through this project will allow us to determine both the optimal backbone length and binding units’ distributions in our lubricin mimetic to achieve suitable lubricating and protective capabilities. Collectively, these findings should result in the design of a cheap and fully biocompatible alternative to natural lubricin, which could potentially be used in both articular joints and prosthetic implants in vivo.

2. Engineering 3D platforms that mimic the cancer microenvironment

The extracellular matrix (ECM) is a fibrillar scaffold that plays an important role in many physiological processes such as gene expression and in pathologies such as cancer. More specifically, cells interact with the ECM to regulate their migration, proliferation, differentiation, and even death. Fibronectin and collagen are two key proteins of the ECM that have been implicated in cancer progression. In fact our group previously demonstrated that cancer-associated cells generate high quantities of both fibronectin and collagen with altered structural and mechanical properties that favor tumor growth.

In this project, the student will learn freeze-casting techniques to generate fibronectin-collagen three-dimensional (3D) scaffolds with tunable microarchitecture and mechanics that mimic either the healthy or the cancerous microenvironment. He/she will also learn Fӧrster resonance energy transfer (FRET) spectroscopy and atomic force microscopy (AFM) to monitor protein structure and scaffold stiffness, respectively. These 3D platforms will then be utilized to investigate the effect of ECM structure and mechanics on cancer cells invasion and tumor growth.

By tuning collagen and fibronectin properties, we should be able to regulate cancer cell functions including cell adhesion and proliferation, and thus, potentially prevent tumor growth and metastasis.  Additionally, these 3D ECM-mimicking platforms will allow us to study cells over large volumes, i.e., for long-term cell culture, and therefore have potential applications in tissue engineering as well as regenerative medicine.

Delphine Gourdon
801 King Edward, room N205 C

Pawel Hawrylak

Pawel Hawrylak-Quantum Theory Group

Electronic and optical properties of 2D materials

In a class of materials consisting of two-dimensional atomic layers stacked vertically it is possible to peel of a finite number of layers, from one atom to several atoms thick. The electronic properties and interaction with light of these atomically thick layers depend on the number of layers. This project involves developing a mathematical model describing the energy spectrum and coupling to light of bilayer and tri-layer graphene.

Pawel Hawrylak
ARC 407

Béla Joós

Modeling of Cell Excitability: Kinetics and Energetics

Cells form the basic units of life. They offer great variability in a structure that is strikingly similar among living species. Most striking are excitable cells (neurons, heart, muscles, ..) which send and receive electric signals in the form of action potentials, cross-membrane potential variations triggered by the opening of voltage gated channels. Large concentration gradients of Na and K across the cell membrane provide the means for the cell to produce fast responses. The summer project will be on a topic related to cell energetics, response to cell damage, tracking and assessing mild nerve damage, propagation losses, or generation of compound action potentials, superposition of action potentials in bundle of axons .. The student will do computer modeling with user friendly and easily accessible codes such Python.

Béla Joós
598 King Edward, room 203

Jacob Krich

1. Efficiency calculations for intermediate band photovoltaics

Intermediate band photovoltaics (IBPV) have the potential to radically improve the efficiency with which sunlight is converted to electricity.  The idea of IBPV is to find (or create) a semiconductor with a band of levels contained entirely inside the the band gap between the valence and conduction bands. These levels will allow the material to absorb lower-energy photons while still getting a large voltage, exceeding the efficiency of all simple semiconductor designs. The search for ideal materials to realize the intermediate-band concept is still in its infancy. This project will use analytical and numerical methods to explore the ideal parameters for an intermediate band material. It will begin by considering the so-called detailed-balance limit, in which all nonradiative processes are neglected, and find the ideal properties of IB materials as a function of solar concentration. It will then consider reasonably attainable levels of non-radiative processes and determine how stringently materials must be engineered to make viable IBPV devices.

2. Disentangling vibrational and electronic coherences in large photosynthetic complexes

Photosynthetic systems are generally highly efficient at transferring energy. Since they absorb sunlight in an antenna-complex and perform chemistry in a reaction center some distance away, they must be able to move that excitation over to the reaction center. Recent nonlinear optical spectroscopic experiments have given evidence that several photosynthetic complexes not only are highly efficient at transferring energy but do so while maintaining quantum coherence between separate parts of the complex. This has raised the intriguing possibility that nature has evolved to preserve these coherences, as they may aid in the energy-transfer process.
The experimental signatures of these coherences are not, however, perfect. It is possible that they are caused by vibrations in the molecules rather than coherences in the electronic system. The vibrational effects could be interesting on their own, but they are considerably less exciting than the electronic ones. Using analytical and numerical methods, this project will explore a new technique for disentangling (interesting) electronic coherences from (uninteresting) vibrational coherences. It will improve a recent theoretical proposal for distinguishing these forms of coherence to include dephasing effects from the environment, giving better prediction of experimental signatures.

Jacob Krich
25 Templeton, room 408

Adina Luican-Mayer

1. Building new materials one atomic layer at a time

Using a home-built set-up we controllably stack layers from different crystals - not unlike Lego pieces - to build custom novel materials. Once the materials have been designed and built, we characterize them using scanning probe microscopy and complementary techniques. Such designer structures can lead to the realization of unprecedented materials with properties that were previously inaccessible. Through their combination of mechanical, thermal, optical and electronic properties, they provide an exciting avenue for technological utilization in areas such as flexible, low-power, transparent electronics and optoelectronics; ultrasensitive sensors; high-strength composite materials; and supercapacitors for energy storage.

The goal of the project is to assemble heterostructures of two or more materials and to optimize the interface between them. To that end, the student will gain hands on experience with standard cleanroom equipment as well as programming using LabView.

2. Insight into materials at the atomic scale using Scanning Tunneling Microscopy (STM)

Understanding and controlling the properties of material systems to our advantage can be contemplated with the development of experimental tools to probe and manipulate electrons and their interactions at the nanoscale. Specifically, scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) is a material characterization technique that enables breakthroughs both in fundamental research and in material applications. Its power stems from the ability to image and manipulate surfaces at the atomic level and, concomitantly, to provide information about the electronic properties of the material. Our laboratory has acquired a state-of-the art low temperature, ultrahigh vacuum, scanning tunneling microscope that was custom made for the pursuit of unexplored properties in designer 2D materials.

In this project the students will gain hands on experience in vacuum science, scanning probe microscopy, and low temperature physics and they will learn concepts of surface science and condensed matter physics. The students will also learn how to use and develop software for data analysis.

Adina Luican-Mayer
801 King Edward, Minto building, #N205F
Luican-Mayer Lab website

Jean-Michel Ménard

Ultrafast optical spectroscopy of quantum materials

Our research group uses ultrafast optical techniques to improve the general understanding of quantum interactions in condensed matter. In this project the student will use an ultrafast THz spectroscopy setup to investigate properties of a new class of materials: transition metal dichalcogenides. At low temperatures, these compounds display spontaneous formation of intriguing phenomena such as charge density wave or unconventional superconductivity. This project is highly multi-disciplinary as it involves concepts from optics, photonics, electronics and condensed matter. Therefore, the student will gain a broad background in addition to a valuable technical experience while working with lasers, cryostats and other cutting-edge tools for the study of quantum materials.

Jean-Michel Ménard
25 Templeton, room 505

Zbigniew Stadnik

Coexistence of superconductivity and magnetism in Fe-based superconductors

Superconductivity and long-range magnetic ordering are two antagonistic types of ordering. These two phenomena seem to coexist in many recently discovered Fe-based superconductors. The project is to use the Mössbaeur spectroscopy technique to investigate the magnetism of such superconductors. The student will learn about superconductivity and magnetism and will be trained to use the Mössbaeur spectroscopy and powder X-ray diffraction experimental techniques.

Zbigniew Stadnik
562 King Edward, room 202

Vincent Tabard-Cossa

Project: Solid-State Nanopores: Tools for Single-Molecule Biophysics and Bionanotechnologies.

About our work

Our lab is focused on developing a new type of low cost, portable, ultrasensitive electronic biosensing system based on solid-state nanopore technology.  Our goal is to develop a platform technology that can be deployed in a wide variety of health and diagnostics-related applications, including wearables, implantable sensors, low-cost sensors for developing countries, biodefense, and remote environmental monitoring.  

We have developed the only low-cost, scalable method of fabricating solid-state nanopores - nanometer sized holes in thin insulating membranes like silicon nitride.  Nanopores are just large enough to allow biomolecules like DNA and RNA to pass through one at a time, with each translocation generating a unique electrical signal as the molecule temporarily blocks current flow through the pore.

We are now focused on refining this nanoscale fabrication technology and integrating it with custom-designed molecular labels to detect disease at the earliest possible stages, when there are just a few molecules present in a blood sample.

Project description

We are looking for exceptional students to help us tackle diverse challenges in the development of this technology, while at the same time being trained on a wide range of research skills.  Depending on the your skills, this project may include any of the following tasks and more:

  • using the system to perform single-molecule experiments
  • investigate the physics of the pore capture process
  • study transport of polymers under nanoscale confinement
  • developing and characterizing new solid-state materials and nanometer-thick membranes
  • writing custom software or scripts to analyze experimental results
  • design, functionalize and assemble DNA-based labels (DNA origami)
  • rapid design (CAD) and prototyping (3D printing, laser cutting) of new mechanical and electrical systems
  • overseeing fabrication of new parts (drawings, working with shop, procurement, build, testing, documentation, quality control)
  • conducting detailed experiments to optimize performance... basically, anything involved in the early development of a new biosensing technology, from Physics and Engineering to Biochemistry.

This project is an excellent learning opportunity for students who wish to work in high technology or research as part of a highly multidisciplinary team, where fundamental scientific reasoning and experimental skill must be coupled with practical know-how and engineering problem solving.

Contact Information

Vincent Tabard-Cossa
Associate Professor
Department of Physics, University of Ottawa
OffIce: 25 Templeton N205G

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