Faculty Research Areas

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  • 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.

  • 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).

    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. We also develop novel statistical and machine learning techniques for contemporary astronomy, and study the enigmatic cosmic radio background. In the lab we help prepare for the next generation of surveys and measurements in optical and radio light by characterizing detector systems.

  • Condensed Matter and Nanophysics

    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.

    Dr. Dias’ group studies photonics and spintronics. Photonics is the branch of physics that studies light detection, generation, and manipulation through emission, transmission, reflection, absorption, modulation, and amplification. We are working on research projects that explore thin films with various materials which are capable of modulating the properties of the light at the macroscale. Also, we are investigating the use of nanostructures to have an active control of light at the nanoscale. Sensors, detectors, and displays are a few examples that can benefit from the clear understanding of the light-matter interaction. Spintronics, also known as spin electronics, is the study concerning the spin-dependent electron transport phenomena in solid-state physics as well as its possible device application that exploits explicitly the spin properties instead of the charge degree of freedom. Here, we explore different nanostructure configurations and materials to generate and control the spin currents. The next-generation computer processors can be realized based on this phenomenon.

  • 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, Dr. Lipan’s research focus.

    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. Dr. Helms’ group focuses on biophysics research being done on nano-sized fibers.

  • 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. This is an area of focus for Dr. Gilfoyle.

  • 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. Dr. Gilfoyle focuses on this area.