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Science Research Resources

Independent Science Research could be one of the most involved and amazing experiences you undertake in high school. Think about this - you could make a true discovery and contribution to a field of a high school student!! Really!

Don't believe this is true? Then check out the dozens of papers written by former students. Almost all of these received some sort of recognition at the state or national level, and you can see what is possible for motivated high school students.

Typically the toughest part of this process is determining i) the topic of research, and ii) a specific question that can be tested in a controlled, systematic way.  This is difficult for Nobel Prize winners who are looking to start a new research program, let alone an inexperienced high school student. Below are some resources we can look through together and chat about, in order to determine good research questions, and then determine if those questions are doable for you.

To help with this, one can use the Center for the Advancement of Basement Science (CABS) site.

Another way to find research ideas is to go through the faculty pages at Northwestern University. And we can search for any topic or faculty member using Northwestern Scholars - this is a great resource! Check out the descriptions of their research programs, and let Doc V know who is doing interesting work.

Departments at Northwestern University:
- Physics and Astronomy
- Applied Physics
- Chemistry
- Biological Sciences
- Molecular Biology
- Neurobiology
- Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
- Mathematics
- Earth and Planetary Science
- Materials Science
- Environmental Sciences

Northwestern University School of Engineering:
- Biomedical
- Chemical and Biological
- Civil and Environmental
- Industrial and Management Sciences
- Material Science and Engineering
- Mechanical

Northwestern: Leader in Data Science (good summary article and video)

UIUC Engineering Research Centers

Research Programs
Fermilab TARGET Summer Internship (for underrepresented juniors)
IMSA's Mentor Matching Engine (for students in Illinois)
Northwestern CURE Summer Research Program (for underrepresented seniors)
Program in Mathematics for Young Scientists (Boston U)
REAP Application at Loyola University at Chicago
Research Science Institute (at MIT)
Rockefeller University's Summer Science Research Program
Secondary Student Training at the U. of Iowa
Stanford Institutes of Medical Summer Research Program
Summer Science Program (run by Caltech)
Zoouniverse - Site of 33 'People Powered' online projects

Regeneron Science Talent Search (Formerly sponsored by Intel - Check out what some top projects were about, get ideas)
2016 Intel Finalist Project Descriptions
2016 Intel Semifinalist Project Titles
2015 Intel Finalist Project Descriptions
2015 Intel Semifinalist Project Titles
2014 Intel Finalist Project Descriptions
2014 Intel Semifinalist Project Titles
2013 Intel Finalist Project Descriptions
2013 Intel Semifinalist Project Titles
Check out any year of the Science Talent Search

Siemens Science Competition (Check out what some top projects were about, get ideas)
2015 Finalists
2015 Semifinalists (can see abstracts)
2013 Finalists
2012 Finalists
2011 Finalists (see Julia and Patrick!)
Links to past year's winning students and project descriptions

Research Contests
Regeneron Science Talent Search, deadline mid-November
Siemens Science Competition, deadline late September/early October
Junior Science and Humanities Symposium (Loyola's site), deadline late January
Google Science Fair
NU High School Project Showcase

Physics Research Possibilities: This is a list just to get some ideas started…there are
an endless number of topics once you get thinking about it! This list is a working list - let Doc V
know if there are new ideas you have!!

Everyday Phenomena (Variety of topics)
  • Drops of water on hot, cold plates to measure phase changes via boil, freezing
  • Leidenfrost effect, maze using this effect
  • Look for better combinations of materials to use for electricity production (e.g. two pails of dirt; Josh’s clock)
  • Look for projects with GoPro cameras – use in many environments; use time lapse features; use mobility features; some higher speed possibilities
  • Splashing on various surfaces (splash suppression, see Ari’s paper); need good high-speed camera
  • Optimal angle to cut wood with a saw
  • Close up study of blade cutting different materials
  • Gels or thick, viscous fluids going through screens/strainers
  • Fluids (film with rheoscopic fluid) or granular flowing through funnels
  • Investigate effect of various factors on friction forces (be it static, kinetic or air friction) – such as velocity, surface temps, surface areas, etc.
  • Friction with dimpled/altered surfaces; orientation of object with respect to direction of motion; lines etched into surface, patterns on surface; micropatterns (talk with Jian Cao)
  • Collisions – patterns cut into foam (expand on Joel’s project)
  • Pole vaulting
  • Studies of water resistance with rheoscopic fluid
  • Heat flow as function of position and time through different shapes of same materials
  • Pattern formation when water flowing over sand or other materials
  • Physics of melting ice – as function of temp, time
  • If we get wind tunnel, shapes of blades for most efficient windmill
  • Biomimetics (Nature has figured out how to solve many problems we are trying to figure out – need list of potential topics)
  • Coiling of viscous jet in water – could vary diameter of container, width of jet, height from which honey falls into water, temp of water, vary width of container, have multiple layers of fluids (oils on water), uneven bottom of container, depth of water in the container (how do number, radius, width of honey strand, and vertical stretch between coils vary when other variables are changed); 2 or more honey jets at various distances from each other to see if they affect each other compared to a single jet; what happens when the honey stream pours into water that is rotating (put glass on a turn table, for instance)?; what if stream is poured onto a surface that oscillates vertically at various frequencies and amplitudes; poured onto a surface that is angled; any differences in coiling in salt water vs. plain tap water or distilled water. Prof. Leuptow for advice.

  • Faraday waves over large frequency range
  • Faraday waves mimicking particles in quantum mechanics -
  • Oscillate water droplets with oil drop sitting on top – do you still get Faraday waves?
  • Flow pathways of single droplets 
  • Minimal conditions for a hydraulic jump to form (flow rate, jet width, height of fall, etc)
  • Petri dish with thin layer of water oscillating over  large range of frequencies – pattern formation
  • Boundary walls in turbulent water (Sci Am June 2013)
  • Stationary hydraulic jump – Effects of jet structure
  • Stationary hydraulic jump on inclines
  • Fluid mixing – jet mixing from laminar and turbulent jets
  • Multiple jets – interaction between two hydraulic jump systems (horizontal surface)
  • Polygonal jumps (higher viscosity)*
  • Effect of turbulent jet on jump*
  • Flow patterns/currents in rotating dishes or containers*
  • Vertically vibrated fluids (varying viscosities)*
  • Fluid modeling (Navier-Stokes equations)*
  • Define patterns on inclines mathematically*
  • Jump on rotating surface*
  • Jump on ‘see-saw’ surface*
  • Effects of local disturbances/obstacles on jump*
  • Effect of surface temperature on jump*
  • effect on jump when jet falls on a bump/needle of varying diameters
  • jet falling on tip of a cone, is there a jump? Is there a minimum radius for the tip? Does a jump form on the angled sides (vary angle)? If not water, higher viscosity fluids?
Numerous fluid articles on John Bush's MIT site (applied math professor), including hydraulic Bump, pilot wave dynamics, bouncing droplets, walking droplets, and more. Many good ideas and variations can be done on these.

Granular Materials

  • Vertically vibrated sand, bronze powder
  • Vertically vibrated, surface angled
  • High frequency vibrated granulars (> 100 Hz)
  • Avalanching
  • Wind-blown granular (difficult to do simulations of sand storms, experimental work with this type of phenomenon)
  • Vertically vibrated patters as function of air pressure (in bell jar)*
  • Vertically vibrated granulars on rotating surface*
  • Properties of damp/wet granular systems*
  • Simultaneous horizontal and vertical vibrations*
  • Rotated systems – separation of mixtures*
  • Mixed systems, various sized grains*
  • Effect of temperature changes on granular systems*
  • Pile behavior while being ‘sucked’ by a vacuum*
  • Pile formation when grains are blown into vertical surfaces of varying shapes*
  • Bulldozing a pile - same size grains, vs mix of sizes, shapes, etc.*
  • Flow down funnels*
  • Deep layers being vibrated*

Heat Flow

  • Heat flow through heterogeneous materials (heat refraction)
  • Heat flow through thin metal strips
  • All sorts of efficiency studies - heat transfer with different materials with different geometries and size scales (within electronics, for instance); time dependencies
  • Heat/energy flow at interfaces, such as solid-liquid, solid-gas, liquid-gas, solid-solid; do this with with and without currents in fluids; any way to look at natural heat flows and transfers and mimic it in a human-made system (biomimetic)?  
  • Temperature distributions from periodic heat sources
  • Convection currents in ‘greenhouse’ – as function of humidity, initial temp., etc.
  • Surface temperature and effect on kinetic friction
  • Heat flow through fluids (with/without currents, geometry of container, etc)*

Network Theory

  • Network Structure in Schools
  • Subatomic Particles (Steve’s work) – why do mesons and baryons behave differently in “network” mathematical structure?
  • Getting a network of individual components to ‘fire’ most efficiently
  • Parents of school children*
  • Food webs in Lake Michigan (with Kim Gray, Luis Amaral)*
  • Network structure of groups like Sons of Liberty* (requires some historical research)
  • Vertically vibrated granulars – is there a power law as far as the # of other grains an individual comes in contact with (likely simulation)*
  • Social science problems, for example Chicago is one of 13 cities to put all city data online for the public (could break questions/data down by neighborhood, for instance); "Big Data" projects
  • Analysis of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media data sources

Chaotic Systems and Complex Systems

  • Could do simulations of the topics below, as well as measure behaviors with high-speed cameras and electronic force sensors, etc.*
  • Weakly coupled double pendula; triple pendula?
  • Counterintuitive phenomena (Sarah Peters’ work)
  • Turbulence studies (overlaps with heat flow, fluids)
  • Granular overlap – dynamics, modeling
  • Use of fractals in modeling complex systems (Kai’s work)
  • Computational genetics*
  • Fragmentation studies*
  • Storm behavior - Are there power laws with storms?  Such as frequency of storms with #lightning strikes, wind speed, amount of rain, etc.*
  • Search for correlations between magnetic field reversal and climate change (and the rates at which each occur – do higher rates of ionizing radiation in atmosphere affect global climate?)*
  • Barkhausen effect/noise*


  • Effects of magnetism on microorganisms
  • Effects on magnetism on plants
  • Scaling laws in biology*
  • Learn from natural systems (biomimetics)*
  • Computer models of neural networks*
  • Computer models such as what Indira Raman’s group has done*
  • Any longer-term effects on organisms from low-energy (nonionizing) radiation*
  • Bioacoustics: try to identify patterns in sounds ('speech') of any type of local animal under different conditions; is there a type of 'speech' that emerges? Under what conditions? Is it random noises? Are the same sounds made consistently under the same conditions or stimuli? Or, how do organisms respond to different sounds, frequencies? All sorts of possibilities that can be done in the field or in a lab (which could be your home) - just need some basic AV equipment (such as a cell phone) and patience and observational skills

Biology, Ecology

-Chemical tests of water purity, other properties of water
- Clean water sources; engineering of cheap, effective cleansing of water supplies for drinking
- Animal behavior (field work); could create your own using aquaria, small pools
There are many aspects of Ecology and Animal Behavior that rely on mathematical models to describe the funtion of systems, eg, Optimal Foraging Theory, Evolutionarily Stable Strategies, behavioral polymorphisms, Ideal Free Distribution and many others
- The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) is part of the human genome project, and has databases open to the public. Site is
- Phylogenetics and phylogenomics projects (modeling)
- Phytoremediation studies (use of plants to absorb pollutants from soil, etc.)

Environmental Engineering

- Nanoparticle pollutants and how they affect organisms when combined (Gray lab)
- Nano-manufacturing of new membranes to use in water purification processes (Gray lab)

Computational Chemistry

This would require more sophisticated software, which would likely use density functional theory (DST). There is open-source software for this, such as OpenMX.  The idea behind this is to design molecules and computationally determine/predict what the properties should be. Or take various chemicals and predict what the reactions will be (effectively computer experiments, to determine what the chemistry should be without having to do all the physical experiments). Physical experiments would need to be done to check the predictions - but what this does is allow one to try a series of 'what if' tests to see if anything interesting comes from it, before having to spend all the money and time with wet chemistry to test it. Engineers use this to look for interesting applications before spending money and time to do trial-and-error searches.

Low Temp, Aerogel
  • Aerogel production and acoustic properties
  • Use of aerogels as a physical interface to measure quantum behavior of superfluids in such an environment

Astrophysics (access online datasets or simulation work)

  • Resonance orbits of planets in binary star systems
  • Climate fluctuations for planets in resonance orbits
  • Gravitational lensing models and simulations (physical experiment)
  • Perturbations of planet orbits due to rogue stars
  • Possible phase space for stable binary binary systems (quadruple system)
  • Gravitational perturbations on LISA satellites due to asteroid belt
  • The physics of the 'kneebend' in ballooning experiments (in the troposphere to stratosphere transition)
  • Zooniverse for astronomy (galaxy zoo)
  • Post-starburst galaxy classification (with Laura Trouille)
  • Simulation work of various topics (Kalogera, Trouille, Larson, Schwartz, Morsher, etc)
  • Gravitational lensing of gravity (simulation/theory)*
  • Sloan Digital Sky Survey datasets can be found here, along with tutorials of how to access data.   
  • Kepler databases - the search for extrasolar planets; Kepler Planet Candidate Data Explorer, which is called Planetquest; the main Kepler site 
  • For computational work, the AMUSE package can be downloaded for free on a Mac or Linux machine. AMUSE is a depository of Python code that can be used to do all sorts of calculations for stellar dynamics, hydrodynamics, stellar evolution, radiative transfer, and so on. Very useful stuff that the pros use. 
       รจ has an Astronomy reference from 1991 to check out

Atom-Probe Field-Ion Microscopy (access to machine at Seidman lab)*
  • Surface science*
  • Cracking characteristics of materials*
  • Before and After – samples exposed to heat, cold, lasers, etc., to see effects on surfaces*
Molecular Modeling using PC Spartan
Aerodynamics (construction of wind tunnel, aerodynamics studies; see Erica’s packet)
Lung Surfactants (2 previous projects in the Barron lab)
Acoustic Engineering (Zack Belanger at Kirkegaard)
Harness Wave Energy (engineering; possibly solar cell)

Education Research

  • Teacher networks*
  • Survey data from students – best instructional methods and necessity for variety
  • Develop testing study via Claude Steele for high schools (stereotype threat)*

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