Fellows Research Areas

Students interested in applying for a REU Fellowship should begin the application process by reading the descriptions below describing the active research areas within CASPER.

A brief description of each research area along with selected papers and related links are supplied to provide applicants with relevant background material.


A more comprehensive description with a list of selected CASPER HIDPL/SSL papers and background reading material is included as a single pdf document in the Resources area.

Low Velocity Impact Studies/Dust Detector Design

Dr. Truell Hyde Dr. Lorin Matthews Jorge Carmona Mike Cook

Spacecraft in near-earth orbit and on deeper space missions are subject to damage from impacts with interplanetary dust and orbital debris. Low impact studies are designed to characterize the dust encountered in space and test materials for damage. Several experiments using two single-stage gas guns are underway, including:

  • Corroboration of the sensitivity map for the stainless steel plate with piezoelectric lead zirconate titanate (PZT) crystals attached. The voltage and resonant frequency of the output from the sensor must be measured. A full understanding of the sensitivity map requires understanding not only the electrical response from the PZTs but also the acoustics of the plate, which must be measured as well.
  • Completion of experiments on damage assessment of aluminum and stainless steel plates, using different projectile materials and sizes.
  • Analysis of laser fan data, which measures the projectile's velocity in flight, to determine particle dimensions by the shape and amplitude of the signal.
Small Satellite Studies/Dust Detector Design

Dr. Truell Hyde Dr. Rene Laufer Dr. Lorin Matthews Jorge Carmona Mike Cook

The Space Science Lab develops diagnostics and science packages for use on spacecraft, including nanosatellites and space missions. Small Satellites provide opportunities for research in near-earth orbit and as components of deeper space missions. CASPER has specific interest in the detection of interplanetary dust and orbital debris as spacecraft in near-earth orbit and on deeper space missions are subject to damage from dust impacts. Low velocity (less than 1 km/s) impact studies are designed to characterize the dust encountered in space and test materials for damage. The Space Science Lab within CASPER currently has several active flight missions on which they will be providing the science instrument.

Development of these dust detector experiments is currently underway. As such, REU Fellows can participate in (among others):

  • Research and design of the detector system.
  • Design and development and testing of the electronics.
  • Design and development of the mechanical system.
  • Design and development of flight software.
  • Design and development of the spacecraft interface.
Self-Assembling Dust Structures in an RF Reference Cell

Dr. Truell Hyde Dr. Lorin Matthews Dr. Jie Kong Dr. Ke Qiao Jorge Carmona Mike Cook

The Hypervelocity Impact and Dusty Plasma Lab conducts a number of experiments using five experimental platforms, including two GEC RF reference cells, a specialized dusty plasma cell designed and built at CASPER, IPG6 (an inductively-coupled plasma generator), and a light gas gun. Dust particles immersed within a plasma environment acquire an electric charge. Depending on the plasma environment and the confinement provided by the experiment, the dust particles self-assemble in a variety of structures including dust crystals, Coulomb balls, strings, and helical string bundles. A variety of experiments within complex plasmas investigating the interactions of the dust particles with the plasma and their influence on each other will be ongoing this summer. Additionally, the S-100 nano-manipulator and multiple laser systems (including a femtosecond Ti:Sapphire) provide unparalleled perturbative capabilities for the lab. Complete lab diagnostics and theoretical simulation capabilities as well as full-time technical support providing machining capability and electronics research and development are also available to Fellows working within the HIDPL.


Numerical Modeling of Astrophysical and Laboratory Systems

Dr. Truell Hyde Dr. Lorin Matthews Dr. Jie Kong Dr. Ke Qiao Dr. Constanze Liaw Dr. Augusto Carballido

The Astrophysics and Space Science Theory Group develops numerical simulations of many physical systems, including dust charging and dynamics in space and laboratory plasmas, early stages of planet formation, dynamics of ring systems, turbulence, magnetohydrodynamics, and extensions of these models to other systems such as graphene. The following numerical simulations utilize the Box_Tree code.

  • Structure and phase transitions in 2D and 3D plasma crystals.
  • Wave properties of a bilayer system (particle populations with different sizes).
  • Simulation of wake force caused by ion drag and study of its effect.
  • Simulation of the thermophoretic force and study of its effect.

The results of numerical simulations, such as the dispersion property of the out of plane transverse DLW mode recently discovered theoretically, can also be verified experimentally in the HIDPL. REUs will have the opportunity to add new features to existing models, run and analyze datasets, develop new models and functionality, and collaborate with ongoing laboratory experiments.

Numerical Simulation of Preplanetary Dust Aggregation

Dr. Truell Hyde Dr. Lorin Matthews Dr. Augusto Carballido

Recent data from the Hubble telescope show that planetary formation from the cloud of gas and dust orbiting a new protostar is a much more efficient process than first believed and may occur on a time scale of less than 10 million years. Initially uncharged grains in space and laboratory plasma environments become charged due to currents driven by potential differences in the dusty plasma. Certain macroscopic effects such as coagulation of smaller grains into larger fluffy aggregates are then affected by the grain charge. The charge distribution on the aggregate structure itself appears to play a role in determining the coagulation rate for the dust population. As particles collide, a numerical code can be used to determine the effect of the dipole and higher multipole charge distributions on the openness of the resultant fractal aggregate and the coagulation rates of the particles. A list of current projects available within the CASPER theory group, along with background reading material, is appended to this document.

Gravitoelectrodynamics in Saturn's Rings

Dr. Truell Hyde Dr. Lorin Matthews Dr. Augusto Carballido

Saturn's magnetic field exerts a significant perturbative force on charged micron- and submicron-sized grains in its ring system. This force has been shown to cause the formation of "spokes" in Saturn's B ring and may play a large role in the formation of the evolving clumps, kinks, braids and waves observed in Saturn's F Ring. These effects can be modeled numerically using the Box_Tree code and can be used to predict or explain new features that currently being seen by the Cassini probe in orbit around Saturn. A list of current projects available within the CASPER theory group, along with background reading material, is appended to this document.

CASPER Experimental Astronomy Summaries

Experimental Astronomy

Dr. Dwight Russell Mr. Dick Campbell

Using the CTAS(Central Texas Astronomical Society) telescope at the Clifton site, in collaboration with the UT astronomy department, we will study luminosity curves for white dwarf stars. The data will be taken and used to study periodic variations in the intensities of these stars. The expected periodicity is in the range of 1s to 1000s. This time scale allows for usable data to be taken in the relatively short period of time of one night to a few nights. The CTAS telescope is a state of the art computer controlled facility. The collaboration with UT-Austin will put this research into a larger context of white dwarf physics helping to guide this work toward publishable results. As part of this project, the student(s) will be involved in:

  1. star selection
  2. operation of the CTAS telescope via the internet interface
  3. the recording and analysis of the data. Raw Data will be in the form of CCD images that will need to be converted to light curves.

Meyer Observatory
Central Texas Astronomical Society

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