The Department has a strong program in Soft Condensed Matter Physics, with an emphasis on computational approaches. Topics of interest include liquids, polymers, membranes, colloids, and gels. Many of these systems play a central role in industrial applications, or serve as models for biomaterials. Our methods to investigate these systems range from phenomenological theoretical modeling to elaborate computer simulations. The Department also performs research in experimental laser physics, physics education, and theoretical nuclear physics. Some selected topics:
Charged colloids and polymers are widespread in daily life, in nature and technical applications, including paints, cosmetics, emulsions, foods, and sprays. These systems contain macromolecules that are often highly charged so that electrostatic interactions determine the properties and stability of the material. We study charged colloidal systems and polyelectrolytes using analytical theoretical methods and computer simulations.
Involved faculty: Dr. Alan Denton
Mixed fluids often exhibit a tendency to phase separate. The structural patterns that are formed upon phase separation evolve in time and space. They depend on dimensionality of the system and on the way the transition is induced. For example, a non-uniform temperature quench can lead to a surprisingly rich dynamic behavior which we study using different analytic and computational methods such as Lattice-Boltzmann simulations.
Lipid membranes surround all living cells, forming a barrier that ensures integrity and function. We are interested in understanding the physical properties of membranes and relating them to biological functions. Among the interesting questions are how different lipids influence the lateral organization of a lipid bilayer and what the role of membrane-associated proteins is. Some of our work also addresses bending of lipid membranes and electrostatic interactions between the lipid bilayer and adsorbed macroions.
Involved faculty: Dr. Sylvio May
Amphiphilic molecules, which include surfactants, are able to spontaneously self-assemble into a variety of remarkably versatile structures, among them "living'' polymers and microemulsions. Their structure is often dominated by thermal fluctuations which can be modeled using large-scale computer simulations.
Lasers have applications throughout science and in daily life. We apply lasers to the selective detection of trace aromatic molecules in air and photoemissive ion mobility spectrometry to detect explosives. We are researching miniature dye lasers that have exciting medical applications.
Involved faculty: Dr. Orven Swenson
Physics Education Research
We conduct discipline-based research in Physics Education. The objective is to examine student understanding, and identify and analyze conceptual and reasoning difficulties that students encounter in studying physics. The next step is to design instructional strategies that target specific student difficulties identified by the research, and to assess the effectiveness of these strategies. Therefore, research, curriculum development, and instruction are all integral parts of our investigation.