Research area descriptions
Astrophysics & Gravitation
Astrophysics covers a broad range of theoretical topics and observational phenomena including the study of dust grains that make up the interstellar medium, the formation, the evolution of galaxies and supermassive black holes, cosmic inflation, the dynamics of galaxies, and more.
Our astrophysicists are making use of world-class observing facilities such as the Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Gemini telescopes to answer questions about the formation of stars, galaxies and black holes, the composition of the interstellar medium, and the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that dominate our Universe. Our theorists investigate gravitational phenomena from cosmological to subatomic distance scales, including black holes, gravitational radiation, and the possibility that there are extra dimensions to spacetime.
Atomic, Molecular & Optical Physics
Many interesting opportunities are also available for theoretical research in this area, and include formal work in variational calculus and boundary value problems, molecular collision theory, ion channel studies, quantum and classical chaos, theory of femtosecond laser interaction with atoms and molecules, coherent control of quantum dynamics, computer simulations of biophysical transport processes, and the calculation of atomic transition rates used in in astrophysical plasma modelling and spectral analysis.
Our biophysics group studies a broad range of problems at the exciting interface of biology and physics, including heat shock in cells and proteins, simulations of protein conformation. the physical properties of cell membranes, assemblies of macromolecules, polymer phase transitions and interface properties, and the optical properties of the human eye.
We make extensive use of the most up to date techniques available, including neutron scattering, nuclear magnetic resonance, and molecular modelling. This work has applications in medicine, optometry, and the pharmaceutical and food industries.
The interplay between physics and chemistry constitutes one of the most interesting blends of pure and applied research today. Our experimentalists are at the forefront of this research, performing some of the most precise spectroscopic measurements in the world and detecting phenomena as exotic as water on the sun.
A variety of advanced techniques are employed in this work, including thin film preparation, Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy, High Resolution Photoionization, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Field measurements of atmospheric clouds. There is ample opportunity for theoretical work as well in statistical mechanics, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, the determination of intermolecular forces many-body theory, density functional theory and various mathematical modelling techniques.
Condensed Matter & Materials Physics
Condensed matter physics, with its inexhaustible wealth of theoretical concepts and experimental applications, forms the largest branch of physics research today. Our experimentalists probe the most novel properties of fluids, crystals, gels, macromolecules, semiconductors, and metals, in order to determine the collective behaviour of matter under as broad a range of circumstances as possible.
Our theorists work closely with their experimental colleagues to understand phenomena as diverse as high-temperature superconductivity, spin-glasses, glass transitions, chemisorption, vortices, surface and interfacial phenomena, structure of polymers and proteins, and critical phenomena. With numerous applications in lubrication, batteries, logic circuits and plasmas, our investigations into condensed matter present students with perhaps the broadest range of career alternatives in physics.
Industrial & Applied Physics
Physics, the original interdisciplinary science, has a host of applications in many areas of immediate interest in both the private and public sectors of society. The research our faculty carries out involves the forensic sciences, novel microscope development, laser welding techniques useful in the automobile industry, the construction of fibre optic lasers, vibration control in mechanical systems, development of instrumentation and data analysis methodology for Martian rovers, the study of physical acoustic and electro-acoustic systems, and of digital signal processing in audio. Excellent opportunities are available for students wishing to pursue co-operative graduate studies in these fields.
Nanotechnology & Nanoscience
A dramatic transformation in science and technology is happening. The next fifty years will see new inventions, novel products, stunning medical advances, remarkable energy solutions, and creative answers to controlling and understanding technological and biological processes - and nanoscience is making them all possible. Our nanoscience researchers use a wide range of state-of-the-art experimental and computational techniques for studies of matter on the nanoscale, ranging from the self-assembly of polymers to the optical properties of single sheets of graphite called graphene to the mechanical properties of unique biomaterials derived from bacteria.
Quantum Computing is concerned with exploring the possibility that the laws for information processing could be intrinsically quantum-mechanical. As such, it extends the foundations of computer science by relating the notions of information and computation to physical laws. Quantum Computing involves a leap not only in our way of controlling computer processors but also a change of paradigm in our understanding of what information is. It is a vast field that includes quantum communication, quantum cryptography, quantum teleportation and quantum information processing. Quantum Computing is a rapidly-developing multidisciplinary subject that provides excellent experimental and theoretical research opportunities for graduate students in physics. Researchers in this field are also members of the Institute for Quantum Computing, which was established in 2002.
Subatomic physics is the study of the constituents of matter on the scale of the atomic nucleus, and smaller, and their interactions. Our primary experimental efforts are centered on nuclear structure, nuclear astrophysics, and searches for physics beyond the Standard Model using Canada's world-leading radioactive beam facilities, ISAC and ISAC-II, at Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics (TRIUMF). Major experimental facilities at TRIUMF operated by us include the TRIUMF-ISAC Gamma-Ray Escape Suppressed Spectrometer (TIGRESS) and 8pi gamma-ray spectrometers, and we are currently developing the Nuclear Physics group (DESCANT) array of neutron detectors.
Our theoretical efforts concentrate on obtaining predictions of neutrino interactions, as well as with furthering the development, understanding and predictions of the quark model of baryons. Some of our investigations, at a more formal level, are concerned with quantum chromodynamics, electroweak theory and string theory (the leading candidate for a unified theory of all forces and particles), particularly with the development of calculational methods to extract its predictions for both particle physics and gravity.