Research Projects at The University of Glasgow, Scotland

For questions related to the list of Research Projects at The University of Glasgow, please contact Dr. Jessie Guinn, Assistant Academic Dean of STEM.

Pure & Applied Mathematics / Statistics

Statistics with a Human Face
Supervisor: Adrian Bowman

A stereo-camera system is available to collect images in three dimensions. This has been used to capture images of human faces. One of the interests in this area is to quantify the degree of asymmetry in faces, and where this occurs. The project will involve the use of computing tools developed in Glasgow to calculate asymmetry, leading to subsequent analysis across a group of images.

Prerequisites: The background skills required to undertake the project are some exposure to elementary statistical methods and to the use of computing packages to analyze data. However, the most important attribute is the willingness to learn new skills in both these areas.

Knots, Crossing Changes, and Surfaces in 4-dimensions
Supervisor: Brendan Owens

A knot is a closed loop in 3-space -- think of a piece of string with the ends joined. The unknotting number of a knot is the fewest number of times you need to pass one strand of the knot through itself to get an unknotted circle. A 'movie' of such an unknotting sequence can be thought of as a disk in 4-space, which crosses itself once each time the knot passes through itself. One can also ask what is the minimal number of crossings in such a disk in 4-space: this is called the 4-ball crossing number of the knot.

The goal of this project is to use some recent theorems to compute 4-ball crossing numbers of some specific families of knots. This will involve hands-on work manipulating knot diagrams, either on paper or computer, and also computer experimentation using Mathematica and/or Maple.

The student will gain familiarity with topology of knots in 3 dimensions and surfaces in 4 dimensions as well as filling in gaps in our current knowledge of these objects, and highlighting interesting cases for further study.

Required background: Calculus, linear algebra. Desirable background: Some basic topology, knowledge of the classification of surfaces, familiarity with either Mathematica or Maple.

The Clustering of Inertial Particles in Turbulent Flows
Supervisor: Andrew Baggaley

Raindrops begin forming when water vapor condenses on small particles of dust in the atmosphere. Once condensed, the droplets grow to a size where they are heavy enough to begin falling. As they fall, the droplets accumulate more and more moisture, until they become the large raindrops we are all familiar with. However whilst we understand this progress, once you estimate the typical time you need to grow from micron to millimeter sized droplets, it would take around ten or fifteen hours; empirically scientist found that often rain can form in timescales as short as half an hour. One explanation of the acceleration of this process is the presence of turbulence in the cloud, which is characterized by intense swirling motions. These areas of rotational motion act as centrifuges, spinning the micrometer sized particles out to the edges, where they cluster together. We will investigate this process by deriving the underlying equations of motion for the system and then performing direct numerical simulations of the clustering process.

Required knowledge: Ordinary and partial differential equations, vector calculus. Desirable but not essential: Continuum mechanics/fluid mechanics.

Linear Representations of Finite Groups
Supervisor: Uli Kraehmer

Abstract: A representation of a group associates to each group element a matrix such that the abstract group operation becomes matrix multiplication. The classification of all representations of a given group has applications in group theory itself, but also in geometry, physics and chemistry.

In this project we will learn the basic theory of representations of finite groups, e.g. from Serre's book, "Linear Representations of Finite Groups".

Depending on the interest of the student they can then study various applications. One concrete plan is to study so-called Yetter-Drinfeld modules over group algebras which would directly link this project to current research in Hopf algebra theory.

Prerequisites: Finite-dimensional vector spaces and linear maps necessary, some basic group theory desirable.



Organocatalytic Synthesis of Furans
Supervisor: Stephen Clark

The student will work on our project concerning the organocatalytic synthesis of furans from dienes (see Angewandte Chemie 2012, 51, 12128-12131). The student should have experience of doing basic organic synthesis e.g. enolate chemistry and reactions involving moderately air/moisture sensitive reagents.

The Synthesis and Characterization of a Molecular Actuator
Supervisor: Daniel Price

Recent theoretical studies on an anionic dinuclear double stranded copper(II) helicate, previously synthesized in our laboratory, suggest a redox activity which should be coupled to a very significant elongation of the molecular shape. This project will study the actual redox chemistry of this complex molecular anion using both cyclic voltammetry and chemical methods, and examine and correlate subsequent changes in molecular geometry with changing electronic structure. The large predicted elongation along the helical axis makes these molecules potentially very interesting as molecular "synthetic" muscle.

Ideally a student should have skills in basic synthetic organic and coordination chemistry, interpretation of routine characterization techniques, such as 1H, 13C NMR, vibrational and electronic spectroscopy.

Pd-catalyzed Heterocycle Synthesis by Alkene Difunctionalization
Supervisor: David France

The project will be to extend our ongoing studies designed to prepare bioactive heterocycles like the widely prescribed anti-depressant citalopram. The new methods we work on are catalyzed by palladium and are carried out under very user-friendly conditions.



Numerical Modelling for the Design of a Sagnac Speedmeter Experiment to Beat the Heisenberg Unicertainity Principle
Supervisor: Dr. Bjoern Seitz

Radioactive isotopes emitting beta radiation are frequently embedded in living organisms, either as the result of exposure to natural or man-made radioisotopes emitted into the environment or as radioactive tracers to monitor biological functions in a living organism. An example for man-made exposure to beta-radiation would be ingestion of Strontium-90 with seafood as encountered in the aftermath of the Fukushima Dai-ichi powerplant's accident. Beta-emitting radioactive tracers could e.g. be employed in radio-guided surgery of cancer lesions.

The broad energy spectrum and short penetration length make it in general difficult to detect and identify beta-emitting isotopes. We propose to study a hand-held device, currently dubbed the "beta-Pen", to identify beta-radiation at short range with applications ranging from food monitoring to novel ways of radio-guided surgery in mind. The project will comprise of identifying and testing a novel combination of scintillating material with small area photon detection systems to prove the feasibility of this approach and provide a pilot study of its uses.

Dragging Light with a Glass Bar
Supervisor: Prof M. Padgett

For many years, it has been known theoretically that a moving medium drags light. A washing machine engine spins a 200mm thick glass bar at an extremely high velocity but is only expected to rotate a transmitted image by a few microradians. This rotation has been too small to be detected before. This project will endeavor to observe these effects for the first time, using center of mass tracking and image processing made possible by the latest Digital Cameras. Hopefully the project will lead to a scientific publication.

This project will require and develop skills in: camera interfaces, image processing, LabVIEW programming, and experimental setup and manipulation.

Compressive Ghost Imaging
Supervisor: Prof M. Padgett

Computational Ghost Imaging is a technique which projects a random but known light field onto a test object and measures the back reflected signal. This acts as a weighting signal for that pattern, (an estimate of correlation between light field 'pattern' and object). After many patterns have been projected and measured one can reconstruct the original object. This project is a computational based project working with real experimental data in firstly learning how to construct a ghost-imaging algorithm, and then apply this knowledge to write a compressive algorithm in Labview. Prospective students should have some degree of previous experience and/or enthusiasm for programming as this project is computationally intensive, also will include a significant degree of development with respect to statistical models.

Single Photon Imaging
Supervisor: Prof M. Padgett

Quantum optics is strange, not because the light travels in packets but because the packets are linked to each other by the “spooky action at a distance” that is quantum mechanics. Rather than modeling a single optical path one needs to link two paths together. One way of doing this is launching light from the detector, backwards in time through the other optical system. We need to model our lab systems in exactly this way to understand whether it is possible, for example, to "see" through optical turbulence.

We will use our wave-tracing software to accurately account for the action of every optical component comparing precisely our real results to those predicted – then apply the model to application motivated systems that we can’t yet make – but could if we tried really hard. Hopefully the project will lead to a scientific publication.

Numerical Modeling for the Design of a Sagnac Speedometer Experiment to Beat the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle
Supervisor: Stefan Hild

In the cleanroom of the interferometer development lab at the IGR the construction of the world's first Sagnac Speedmeter interferometer has recently started. With this proof-of-principle experiment we aim to demonstrate measurements with sensitivity better than what is predicted by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. To ensure stable operation of the experiment at the quantum limit and to achieve the targeted laser power buildup inside the optical resonators, it is crucial that the positions of the core optical elements are stabilized to nanometer precision by means of electronic feedback control.

In the scope of this challenging project the student will develop and use various numerical interferometer models and carry out multiple-parameter analysis and optimizations (using for instance genetic algorithms). The aim is to develop different control strategies based on heterodyne modulation techniques and to compare advantages and disadvantages to identify to most suitable configuration for an implementation in the experiment. The project can be extended to also cover aspects of lock acquisition (i.e. of how to bring the initially uncontrolled interferometer to a fully controlled state), alignment sensing and radiation pressure induced opto-mechanical effects.

This project has a clear focus on numerical modeling, but if required can be refocused on theoretical analyses. Good Matlab skills are essential. The knowledge of a compiled programming language will be helpful but is not required.

Development of Laser Stabilization techniques for Interferometry at the Attometer Level
Supervisor: Christian Graef

Laser interferometers for gravitational wave detection employ ultra-stable and well-controlled laser systems to carry out length measurements at sensitivities in the 10^-19 m range. In this project the student will work on stabilizing the power output of a Nd:YAG non-planar ring oscillator laser system for an interferometer prototype experiment and also on characterizing the beam pointing stability of this laser. This project has a strong experimental component (including handling lasers, free air optics, fiber optics and optical ring-resonators; building control systems, using analog and digital electronics; using high precision measurement equipment, etc.). The project can be extended to include hardware and software development for the automation of the experimental apparatus, based on interfacing components e.g. to embedded computer systems and integrating these within the existing CDS/EPICS real time digital control system in our lab.



Extremophiles in the Urban Environment
Faculty from the School of Life Sciences

Microbes are able to colonize natural environments in which extremes of temperature, pH or osmolarity are found. Members of the Archaea are particularly notes for these attributes. Modern domestic and urban environments can present equally challenging conditions yet the ability of microbes to exist in these niches and the substrates that they utilize for growth are much less well understood.

The project will use conventional microbiological techniques to sample from a range of urban environments that present thermal challenge and seek out thermophilic organisms able to survive and grow in these conditions. The properties of these bacteria will be analyzed and identification will be attempted by sequencing of genes that encode ribosomal RNA. Students on the project will develop skills in microbiology and molecular biology and the project will offer substantial opportunity for independent investigation.

Desirable background: Some basic knowledge of microbiology and aseptic technique would be useful but training can be provided.

Caenorhabditis Elegans as a Model for Neuroscience Studies
Faculty from the School of Life Sciences

The nematode Caenorhabditis elegans has achieved great utility as a model organism for the biology of multicellular organisms. Despite its simplicity – typically, the animal comprises just over 1000 cells – it has a sophisticated nervous system and the production of neuropeptides able to modulate behavior has been extensively documented.

C. elegans is attracted to and repelled from a range of chemicals but there is evidence that these simple behaviors can be modified by “reward” compounds like ethanol and nicotine. The availability of mutations in defined genes and other interventions (eg RNAi) enables investigation of the molecular targets and biochemical pathways responsible for these behaviors with implications for understanding and treating human dependence upon chemicals of abuse.

The aim of this project will be to establish an experimental system with C. elegans in which these topics can be explored.

Students on the project will develop skills in neuroscience and molecular biology and the project will offer substantial opportunity for independent investigation.

Desirable background: Some basic knowledge of molecular biology or biochemistry would be useful but training can be provided.

Viruses in Freshwater: A Historical Record of Past Pollution?
Faculty from the School of Life Sciences

Many species of bacteria present in natural environments act as hosts for viruses (“bacteriophage”) that enter, replicate and destroy the microbial host. Vast numbers of these viruses are found in aquatic and marine environments – typically each milliliter of seawater contains 10 million of these agents – and they play important roles in regulating bacterial populations, driving bacterial evolution and in consequence, impacting upon multiple ecosystems.

Although viral infectivity can decline with time depending upon the virus, ambient temperature, pH and other parameters, they remain an important indicator of water quality. But can they persist in the absence of the bacteria in which they grow? Can they provide a historical record of past pollution?

The aim of this project will be to characterize the bacteria of faecal origin in a local watercourse, to establish which indicator organisms are present and which are absent, and then to attempt detection of bacteriophage for both groups of microbes. Students on the project will develop skills in environmental monitoring, virology and molecular biology.

Desirable background: Some basic knowledge of ecology and microbiology would be useful but training can be provided.