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.

Accelerator Physics
  • Experiment: Use of the Solenoidal Tracker (STAR) detector at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), A Large Ion Collider Experiment (ALICE) at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and other accelerator experiments to understand quark gluon plasmas. (Reed)

Astronomy and Astrophysics

Astrophysics at Lehigh covers a variety of topics, but the main areas of focus are binary star systems, massive stars, high energy astrophysics, and exoplanets. Research projects at Lehigh involve the dynamics and orbits of stellar binaries and N-body dynamics. There are investigations of stellar formation and evolution, the ages and composition of young stellar clusters, and the high energy behavior of massive stars, X-ray binaries, and stellar remnants. On massive stars, there is research on magnetic fields and the formation of disks in Be stars. There are several projects on the discovery of new exoplanets, observing exoplanet atmospheres and dynamics, and the analysis of exoplanet populations. (McSwainPepper)

Observational projects involve the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Fermi Space Telescope, the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, and the Kilodegree Extremely Little Telescope. Theoretical work includes the design and optimization of astronomical surveys. (McSwain, Pepper)

Atomic, Molecular, & Optical Physics
  • Experiment: Thermalization and condensation of photons in dye media confined within a narrow optical cavity (Kim). 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 (Sommer).  Other topics include multi-photon interactions mediated by matter (nonlinear optics) and the use of optical tools for research in condensed matter physics (Biaggio, DierolfToulouse).
  • Theory: Physical and engineering principles involved in the assembly of actin proteins into filaments and larger scale structures. Statistical mechanics and soft matter physics applied to actin protein assemblies and the emergent collective properties  Equilibrium and nonequilibrium properties of protein phase transitions. (Vavylonis)
  • Experiment: Application of optical imaging, trapping, and manipulation for cell mechanics studies (Ou-Yang). A combination of fluorescence microscopy, lipid physical chemistry, and fluid mechanics is used to investigate the mechanical principles underlying the response of living cells to fluid flow (Honerkamp-Smith).
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 (Ekuma); the detection of variable signals in large astronomical surveys (Pepper); coarse-grained models of biological systems with molecular dynamics, statistical, and continuum methods (Vavylonis); large-scale data analysis in high energy and nuclear physics (Reed).  Development of reinforcement-learning-based atomic force microscopy (Dierolf).  The computational research is performed at both high performance computing facilities on campus and in national facilities.
Condensed Matter Physics
  • Theory: Electronic and vibrational properties of defects in semiconductors and insulators (FowlerRickman). Novel two-dimensional layered materials and their hybrids, heterostructures, and interfaces; Electronic and related properties of bulk semiconductors and insulators; Impurities and defects in materials including their interplay in strongly correlated materials/systems; The physics of carrier localization in model systems and real materials (Ekuma). Topological condensed matter physics and quantum critical phenomena in strongly correlated and disordered systems (Roy). 
  • Experiment: Charge transport in insulators and semiconductors; nonlinear optical spectroscopy (Biaggio). Point defects in insulating materials with ferroelectric domain walls and other dopants; optical spectroscopy under application of hydrostatic pressure, and magnetic fields; carrier localization in wide band gap semiconductors (Dierolf). Quantum transport behavior of electrons, conduction in ultrasmall silicon MOSFETs and gallium-arsenide devices and carbon nanotubes at low temperature and high magnetic field (Licini). Defects in semiconductors. Current interest is in defect complexes that contain light-element impurities such as H, C, O, and N. Vibrational spectroscopy and uniaxial stress techniques are used to elucidate microscopic properties (Stavola). Raman and neutron scattering, dielectric and ultrasonic spectroscopies, collective vibrational dynamics of disordered ferroelectrics and glasses (Toulouse). 
Cosmology and String Theory
  • Theory: Quantum field theory and string theory, and their applications to theoretical cosmology, quantum gravity, particle theory, and strongly coupled gauge theories. (Cremonini)
High Energy Physics
  • Theory: Fundamental aspects and phenomenological applications of string theory, gravitational descriptions of quantum field theory, gauge/string dualities. (Cremonini)
  • Experiment: Examination of the quark gluon plasma (QGP) created in heavy ion collisions by using particle jets and heavy flavor quarks as probes of the medium. (Reed)
Nonlinear Optics and Photonics
  • Experiment: Multiple orders of light-matter interactions. Time-resolved spectroscopy of second and third-order nonlinear optical effects in organic and inorganic materials. Optical frequency conversion and all-optical switching (Biaggio). Fiber optics. Nonlinear effects in optical fibers and waveguides (DierolfToulouse). 
Plasma and Fusion
  • Experiment: Collisional and collisionless phenomena of very dense plasmas in or near a local thermodynamic equilibrium; anomalies in radiation transport properties; lowering of ionization potentials in dense plasmas; laser-produced plasmas. (Kim)
Soft Condensed Matter Physics and Complex Fliuds
  • Experiment: Nonlinear dynamics in fluid systems; dynamics of small particle suspensions; light scattering. Polymer and colloid physics (KimOu-Yang).

Statistical & Thermal Physics
  • Theory: Pattern formation in nonlinear, non-equilibrium systems. Kinetics of first order phase transitions focusing on crystallization of globular proteins. Cell-cell communication via calcium oscillations (Kim). 
  • Experiment: Intrinsic fluctuations in fluids under external forcing, such as Brownian motion; chaotic transitions; light scattering from fractals; 1/f-dynamics of granular avalanches (Kim).