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Faculty Research Areas

Experimental Nuclear and Particle Physics

Particles called quarks and gluons form the basis for the atoms, molecules, and atomic nuclei that make up our world. How these quarks and gluons actually combine to form that matter is still shrouded in mystery and remains one of the grand challenges in physics. Dr. Gilfoyle's group uses the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (TJNAF) to explore this new territory. The electron and photon beams at TJNAF illuminate the inside of the atomic nucleus so we can unravel how these building-blocks bind to each other to make the matter we see around us. Learn more about Dr. Gilfoyle's work at the JLab, as chair of the CLAS Collaboration. Visit Dr. Gilfoyle's web page for details about his research.

Dr. Beausang's group explores the structure of the atomic nucleus, which lies at the heart of matter and at the core of stars. Consisting of between a few and a few hundred strongly-interacting fermions (the protons and neutrons) the atomic nucleus exhibits a wealth of different behaviors when excited. We strive to understand the interplay between the collective motion of many protons and neutrons together and single particle motions involving individual nucleons. Simple sounding questions such as ... What is the shape of a nucleus? Does this shape change as one makes a nucleus spin faster and faster? Do nuclei vibrate? Or rotate? Visit Dr. Beausang's web page to learn more.

Astrophysics and Cosmology

Dr. Bunn’s group's work is in the field of cosmology, the study of the structure, origin, and evolution of the universe on the very largest scales. We analyze and interpret measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation, which is a relic of a time when the universe was only half a million years old (20,000 times younger than today). Visit Dr. Bunn's web page to learn more.

Dr. Singal and his students work in astrophysics across the electromagnetic spectrum. Utilizing observational data from ground and satellite-based surveys in visible light, radio waves, gamma rays, and other kinds of light, we study populations of active galaxies and how they have changed over the history of the Universe. In the lab we help prepare for the next generation of surveys and measurements in optical and radio light by characterizing detector systems. We also develop novel statistical techniques for contemporary astronomy, and study the enigmatic cosmic radio background.

Condensed matter and nano-physics

Dr. Trawick's group's focus is on the self-assembly in block copolymer systems, particularly in thin films. These systems can form two-dimensional periodic structures of cylindrical or spherical micro-domains, with typical periodicities of tens of nanometers. The length scales of these structures makes such systems important both as laboratories for nano-scale physics, and for their potential applications in nanotechnology. Visit Dr. Trawick's web page to learn more.

Biological Physics

Biology is still an uncharted territory and open to new fundamental discoveries. Before Newton, the phenomena of mechanical motion were not understood in their simple fundamental form. Likewise in Molecular Biology we are in a pre-Newtonian time. A living organism functions through the interaction of thousands of genes; and these interactions are precisely regulated in time. The study of these interactions gave birth to the field of Systems Biology. Visit Dr. Lipan's web page to learn more.

Additionally, many proteins, protein complexes and molecules are picometers to microns in size and require sophisticated techniques and tools to study their structures, motion and forces.  Interdiciplinary research between physics, biology and chemistry provides such tools, techniques and models.  To learn more about biophysics research being done on nano-sized fibers visit Dr. Helms’ web page.

Environmental Radiation

The world we live in is radioactive. The environmental radiation laboratory in the physics department houses a suite of sensitive gamma and charged particle detectors capable of detecting and quantifying these tiny amounts of radiation. We have a variety of student-led projects including a collaborative project with Biology to examine the environmental radiation content of sea-sponges. Visit Dr. Beausang's web page to learn more.

Homeland Security

Since the terrorist attacks on 9/11 there has been an explosion of interest in ways that science can make us more secure. The Department has active work in science policy and stockpile stewardship (maintaining the reliability of our nuclear weapons arsenal). We are also developing an educational program for University students and first responders. Visit Dr. Beausang's or Dr. Gilfoyle's web pages to learn more.

Physics Education

The Department has been at the forefront of new innovations in physics teaching for over a decade. In all our introductory courses, we emphasize small sections (a limit of 24 students in a class) and an active, hands-on, approach to learning physical law. Students simply learn better when they reveal nature's secrets for themselves instead of passively listening to lectures. This approach invigorates our upper-level courses where students can frequently work on individual projects including a final, capstone experience in our Senior Seminar. Visit Dr. Gilfoyle's web page to learn more.

Conduct Research with Faculty

Physics faculty members conduct research year-round and are always eager to help undergraduate students get involved in their research projects. Contact individual faculty members to learn more about working in their labs.

Con Beausang
Low-energy nuclear structure physics
Gamma-ray spectroscopy
Stockpile stewardship
Environmental radiation

Ted Bunn
Big Bang cosmology (theory and data analysis)

Jerry Gilfoyle
Electro-nuclear physics
Computational methods
Nuclear non-proliferation and science policy

Christine Helms
Mechanical Properties and force detection by AFM
Interaction of NO and NO metabolites with vascular components
Benefits of dietary Nitrate on hemostasis

Ovidiu Lipan
Systems biology
Signal propagation in genetic networks
Mammalian cells behavior under stress
Mathematical formulation of genetic systems in interaction

Henry Nebel
Upper atmospheric physics
Solar astronomy

Jack Singal
Astrophysics Analysis
Large Synoptic Survey Telescope development
Microwave and Radio Instrumentation

Matt Trawick
Condensed matter physics
Polymer materials
Self-assembly
Nanotechnology