Research Areas

Notice to Incoming/Perspecitve Graduate Students: Faculty in the Lehigh Physics Department conduct research in a number of fields of physics.  This document (Click Here) lists the research areas that are currently active.  This list does not necessarily indicate areas that are currently taking on new graduate students, but rather provides an overview of active areas of research. 

The department of physics has concentrated its research activities within several fields of physics, with the result that a number of projects are available in each area. Undergraduate student research is arranged informally as early as the sophomore (or occasionally freshman) year at the initiation of the student or formally as a senior research project. Several undergraduates typically receive support for summer research under the auspices of the REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) program. Graduate students complete a small research project (Physics 491) during the summer following their second semester, and then undertake a larger, thesis project. Following is a description of current faculty research projects that may involve undergraduates, REU students, or graduate students.


Astronomy and Astrophysics

Current research involves theoretical and observational studies of stars and planets. Particular areas of interest in stellar astrophysics are young open clusters, binary stars, X-ray binaries, the formation of disks in Be stars, and stellar pulsations. Research on planets involves the discovery and characterization of exoplanets orbiting bright stars and the search for extraterrestrial life. (McSwainPepper)

Atomic, Molecular, & Optical Physics
  • Current research investigates the physics of quantum many-body systems through studies of ultracold atomic gases. Topics include superfluidity, spin and heat transport, and thermodynamics of strongly interacting Fermi gases. Experiments employ laser cooling and optical trapping to produce quantum degenerate atomic gases, and tailored optical potentials, radiofrequency spectroscopy and other techniques to perform measurements. Research also includes thermalization and condensation of photons in dye media confined within a narrow optical cavity. (Biaggio, Dierolf, Sommer, KimToulouse)
  • Researchers in the physics department employ experimental as well as mathematical and computational modeling to study the organization and dynamics of biological systems. They are involved in interdisciplinary collaborations with researchers in biology, bioengineering and related fields. Areas of research involve experimental and theoretical studies of mechanical properties of cells and biomaterials using techniques such as optical tweezers and optical microscopy; modeling studies of cell division, cell motion, polarized growth, and mating; physics of cytoskeletal self-organization; and experimental study of lipid membranes using microfluidics and confocal microscopy. (Honerkamp-Smith, Ou-Yang, Vavylonis)
Computational Physics
  • Many of the fields of physics research at Lehigh involve the use of state-of-the-art computers to address large-scale computational problems. Researchers in the physics department employ diverse computational approaches to model complex many-body systems in condensed matter and quantum systems; the detection of variable signals in large astronomical surveys; coarse-grained models of biological systems with molecular dynamics, statistical, and continuum methods; large-scale data analysis in high energy and nuclear physics.  Development of reinforcement-learning-based atomic force microscopy.  The computational research is performed at both high performance computing facilities on campus and in national facilities. (Dierolf, Ekuma, Pepper, Reed, Vavylonis
Condensed Matter Physics
  • Areas of interest include the optical and electronic properties of defects in semiconductors and insulators; collective dynamics of disordered solids; structural phase transitions in ferroelectrics and superconducting crystals; organic molecular crystals; exciton dynamics, singlet-triplet conversion, and in general the physics of electronic and optoelectronic devices; the quantum physics of matter, fields, and their interactions at the nanoscale; surfaces, interfaces and heterostructures; emergent physics in low-dimensional materials; strongly correlated electronic systems, topological phases of matter, unconventional superconductivity, and classical and quantum phase transitions. (Biaggio, Ekuma, Dierolf, Fowler, Licini, Rickman, StavolaToulouse)
High Energy Nuclear Experimental Physics
  • Current research involves the study of relativistic heavy-ion collisions at the Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC (STAR) and sPHENIX experiments at Brookhaven National labs. This field of research focuses on the study of matter under extreme conditions of temperature, density, and pressure, where the quarks and gluons that make up normal nuclear matter are no longer confined into hadrons. This deconfined matter is called the quark gluon plasma (QGP), and experiments use high-energy probes, such as particle jets and heavy flavor quarks, to determine how quarks and gluons lose energy in this medium. (Reed)
High Energy Theory
  • String theory, quantum field theory and cosmology. Areas of interest include the connection between gravitational theories and quantum field theories, holographic gauge/gravity dualities, the behavior of strongly correlated quantum phases of matter, and the evolution of the early universe. (Cremonini
Nonlinear Optics and Photonics
  • Research topics include nonlinear light-matter interaction that enables the control of light with light, four-wave mixing, phase conjugation, and wavelength conversion. We develop materials for second- and third-order nonlinear optics in particular organic molecular assemblies, and in general study materials and effects for photonics and optoelectronics. Examples include single crystals in glass, photonic crystals, holey and other specialty fibers, waveguides, resonant Brillouin scattering, and ferroelectric domain patterning for quasi phase matching. There is also considerable work on applications of photonics to biological systems, near-field optics, and thermal radiation.(BiaggioDierolfToulouse)
Plasma Physics
  • Laboratory studies of collisional and collisionless phenomena in supercritical laser-produced plasmas. Laboratory simulation of supernova emissions in the mid-infrared by excitation of interstellar nano-crystallites by strong shock waves in a new cryogenic diaphragm-less shock tube facility.(Kim)
Soft Condensed Matter and Complex Fliuds
  • Biopolymer networks, biomembranes, and colloidal suspensions are investigated using experimental techniques such as confocal microscopy, laser tweezers, electro-osmotic control, microfluidics, in combination with image analysis and computational modeling. Research areas include phase separation on cell membranes, microrheology of macromolecules and living cells, generalized sedimentation equilibrium of colloidal suspensions, active colloidal suspensions far from equilibrium, diffusion in complex and/or crowded environments, and formation and evolution of nanoscale complexes in solutions. (KimOu-Yang)
Statistical Physics
  • Research includes equilibrium and nonequilibrium fluctuations in gases and liquids; genesis and dynamics of disorder in 2-D solids near percolation threshold; and modeling of transport in disordered metallic solids under thermal forcing. (Kim)