The department provides a number of research opportunities for students. Students interested in doing research can take PHYS 459 for credit, join one of the departmental research groups (often as a paid intern), or participate in special programs for undergraduates at Argonne and Fermilab.
All graduating seniors must take either PHYS 498 (Senior Seminar) or PHYS 499H (Senior Project). PHYS 499H is a 3-hour course for honors students in which students select a research area of interest and work with a faculty member during the semester, culminating in a presentation. PHYS 498 is a one-hour course; students also do a brief presentation on a physics topic of their choosing at the end of the semester.
PHYS 459 allows students to conduct independent research projects. Projects may either be directly related to a faculty member's own research, or of the student's own choosing. Students interested in this course need the prior approval of a faculty member to sponsor them. The student and the professor decide on a research topic and work out an appropriate set of goals. Students cannot count both PHYS 459 and PHYS 499H towards the minimum number of hours required for the physics major.
Students can also become involved with faculty research programs. The faculty often appreciate the effort of undergraduate students and regularly have funds available to employ students. An interested student can ask the department Chair which faculty members might want student participation of this sort and find out more about those research programs by looking at the department's research pages. Students may also apply to work with faculty through NIU's Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program (URAP), Undergraduate Research Assistantships (URA), Huskie Research Rookies, or USOAR programs which are described at the NIU Undergraduate Research page. There are also NICADD Internships; this is an informal program, and internships are usually awarded to students also involved with one of the NIU undergraduate research programs.
Over the past twenty years the high energy physics group has employed more than 80 undergraduates, with at least one student receiving a URAP award each semester. The students have worked on building charged particle detectors, designing and testing electronics, and analyzing data collected from various Fermilab experiments. Due to NIU's close proximity to Fermilab, such work can be done both part-time during the academic year and full-time during the summer. Students should also directly apply for Fermilab summer programs.
Students also have the opportunity to apply for a Science and Engineering Research Semester at the nearby Argonne National Laboratory, where they will participate in ongoing research projects with Argonne scientific staff members or NIU faculty with joint appointments at Argonne.