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Research at the School of Physics & Astronomy

Learn more about the individual research groups by following the links below!

Astrophysics and Astronomy

Astrophysicists seek to understand the physical processes that determine the evolution of the Universe and the matter structures - planets, stars, galaxies, gas and dust - that have formed within it. Research in the School of Physics and Astronomy focuses on galaxy formation and evolution, energetic phenomena associated with supermassive black holes and theoretical studies of gravitational interactions between stars and black holes in galactic nuclei. Faculty frequently obtain observations with NASA's "Great Observatories" including the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory and also use leading ground-based observatories such as the Very Large Array radio telescope and the Gemini optical/infrared telescopes. Physics and AST faculty, post-docs and students collaborate with colleagues from other Departments within two research centers: the Laboratory for Multiwavelength Astrophysics and the Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation, and also maintain strong collaborations with researchers from other institutes both within the US around the world. Our faculty, together with colleagues from the Center Imaging Science and the School of Mathematical Sciences support the multi-disciplinary Astrophysical Sciences and Technology MS and PhD programs.

The RIT Observatory features several telescopes: a 12-inch Meade LX-200 with CCD camera, a 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain, and a 90-mm refractor. The School of Physics and Astronomy, the Center for Imaging Science and the Astrophysical Sciences and Technology Graduate Program, have access to a 0.9m telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, affording students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience using a research-level telescope at one of the world's leading observatories.

Optical Physics

Rochester is the one of the beaming optics capitals of the world. Naturally, the students and faculty of the RIT School of Physics and Astronomy engage in various research thrusts that involve the fascinating physical properties of light. These include the use of lasers, holography, telescopes, imaging and detection methods, micro-fabrication techniques, solar energy, numerical computation, optical tweezers, quantum mechanics, and nonlinear optics. The department has two optical telescopes for viewing the heavens. Our students and faculty interact with optics faculty in the Center for Imaging Science, the Microsystems Engineering Department, and outside institutions such as Sandia National Laboratories, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, University of Rochester, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Granular Materials

Granular materials are simply large collections of macroscopic (larger than, say, 0.1 mm) particles. The particles behave exactly like a collection of baseballs do: pushing and rubbing against the others but having no attractive or non-contact forces. And yet, the behavior of granular materials is extremely rich and complicated and, surprisingly, not well-understood. An example of this behavior is the ability to compact. When you tap a bag full of flour, each tap causes the flour to settle a bit, occupying less space. Yet if you pour the flour to a new container you ruin the work of the tapping and start again in a less dense state. This has important consequences for packaging science, and partly explains why cereal boxes are frequently delivered only half-full.

NanoPower Research

The NanoPower Research Labs at RIT are dedicated to the development of new materials and devices for power generation and storage for microelectronic components and micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS). A premium is placed on size, weight, and flexibility in power system design for most microsystems. Our focus is to develop the materials and devices that are compatible with these microsystem constraints by exploiting the potential opportunities afforded to us through nanostructured materials and nanotechnology.

Examples of technologies that we are targeting include carbon nanotubes for high-density storage in lithium ion batteries, semiconductor quantum dots for high-efficiency thin film solar cells, nanotube doped polymeric films for microelectronic PEM fuel cells and microactuators, nanoporous graphite for ultra or supercapacitors, and silicon carbide, gallium nitride and indium phosphide alpha and betavoltaic devices.

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Physics and Astronomy Education Research (paer)

Why do students struggle with physics? Why are more negative feelings associated with physics than, say, math? Why do so few female or minority students become physics majors? Most importantly, is there anything we can do about these depressing facts? Physics education research (PER) strives to answer these and other questions concerning how, what, and why students learn in physics courses. There are several ongoing PER/curriculum development projects going on at RIT. Dr. Scott Franklin has co-authored a new activity-based curriculum for non-science majors, Explorations in Physics, and is currently investigating the effect students' learning styles impact their learning. Dr. Anne Young is active in Astronomy Education Research. And Dr. Robert Teese is currently director of the LivePhoto project which is producing high-quality videos for use in introductory physics courses.

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Soft Condensed Matter and Biological Physics

Soft Condensed Matter and Biological Physics

Soft condensed matter physics and biological physics encompass a very broad range of liquid, solid, and biological systems. Structures that are important for understanding the physics can range in length scale from atomic to macroscopic, from the molecules inside living cells, to cells and tissues and organisms, and from submicron colloids and fibers to macroscopic gels. Important energy changes typically respond to thermal fluctuations, as is often true for molecular changes that cause serious disease. As in other branches of physics, each problem in soft matter and biological phyiscs calls for a unique combination of statistical physics, electrodynamics, mechanics, and quantum mechanics. In addition, each problem can involve a unique combination of physics, mathematics, chemistry, biology, and computer science.

Condensed Matter Physics

Condensed Matter Physicists study matter and materials from familiar sizes down to the atomic scale. This field is often cross-disciplinary, examining a diverse spectrum of nature with a broad range of investigative techniques. However, at the core, it is the combination of quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, and statistical physics. It strives to explain and predict cooperative phenomena in solids based on fundamental interactions between atoms or molecules. The kinds of physical systems studied range from basic solids and liquids, to more exotic kinds of matter that exhibit superconductivity, atomic spin-spin magnetic interactions, spontaneous ordering, and low dimensional systems.

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Research

The faculty at RIT represent a wide range of research areas and activity.

Topics of current interest include physics education research and curriculum development, nanopower systems, thin films, magnetic materials, complex fluids, granular materials, astrophysics, observational astronomy, and computational optics. The Department maintains an observatory on campus that is used for astronomy courses, public outreach, and research.

The large number of faculty means students have an unusually large number of research groups from which to choose. Ongoing projects in both experimental and theoretical physics are carried out by undergraduates, often under the one-on-one supervision of a faculty advisor. Upper-level students can take advantage of RIT's cooperative-work program to work for up to six months, full-time and uninterrupted, on a research project. This allows students to learn a lot about the project as well as make significant contributions to the work. This may be one reason why a large number of RIT physics majors continue on in graduate school.

Faculty Specialization

Soft Condensed Matter and Biological Physics