Faculty and students in the Western Michigan University Department of Physics conduct research in many fields, with both theoretical and experimental emphasis.
For example, this Department of Physics Research Report details their activity in wide and varied program areas between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016:
In many cases, research opportunities are open to undergraduates as well as graduate students, and often involve collaboration with physicists from other universities and laboratories.
Faculty research concentrates on the acquisition and interpretation of spectroscopic observations, primarily emission lines from a variety of celestial objects. Of particular interest are active galaxies, quasars and interstellar gas clouds. Our astronomers often use spectroscopic data from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Atomic and molecular physics
Our faculty are engaged in advanced studies of atoms and molecules, nuclei, materials and the cosmos. Active since 1971, our versatile tandem Van de Graaff accelerator laboratory has been continually upgraded to remain state of the art. On the experimental side, WMU researchers take data from our own tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, as well as larger accelerators off site. Four of our tenured/tenure-track faculty are atomic and molecular physicists whose topics of interest include: excitation and ionization processes between ions, atoms and electrons; charge transfer processed; theoretical photoionization and photorecombination spectroscopy; atomic, molecular spectra from astronomical plasmas; and detailed atomic, ionic and molecular spectroscopy.
Our atomic theorist provides model calculations to support the interpretation of this data, as well as many of the observations made by our astronomers.
Condensed matter physics
Condensed matter physics (CMP) deals with the properties of large numbers of atoms that are interacting strongly with each other. These materials exhibit emergent properties that cannot be predicted from an elementary description of atomic properties and include exotic effects such as superfluidity and superconductivity.
CMP is by far the largest sub-field in physics. It involves many different types of research on thousands of different materials, in both pure and applied areas. Five of our tenured/tenure-track faculty are condensed matter, surface and materials physicists whose research includes: superconductivity; magnesium; inelastic x-ray scattering solar cells; nanoparticle synthesis and characterization; surface science; ion beam induced defects; carbon nanotubes; hydrogen fuel cells and biological systems.
Our department’s CMP group includes both theoretical and experimental physicists who study high temperature superconductors, as well as other solid, liquid or even biological systems. Theoretical work encompasses: nonlinear optics; the dynamics of nonlinear systems; Anderson localization; dynamic Heisenberg magnetic alloys; many-body methods for correlated quantum matter; quantum transport; novel electronic band structure calculations and the quantum Hall effect.
By studying the nuclei which lie at the core of every atom, physicists hope to gain a fundamental understanding of our world, including its origin and future, as well as its current state. Nuclear physics seeks to explain much of the evolution of the universe in the first minutes and years after the "big bang”, and the origin of the elements.
Four of our tenured/tenure-track faculty are nuclear physicists working at the forefront of research in: nuclear astrophysics, including r-process; nuclear reactions; equation of state for dense nuclear matter and novel theoretical approaches to the nuclear many-body problem. Members of the WMU nuclear physics group specialize in both few-nucleon and heavy-ion studies of the strong nuclear force, sometimes using polarization. Some of their studies also have astrophysical applications, in such areas as neutron star structure and the formation of the elements in supernova explosions. The theoretical group investigates quark models of baryon structure, strangeness exchange reactions and general reaction theory.
WMU physicists apply the latest results of educational theory to the unique problems of learning physics. Members of our Physics Education Research Group are interested in student cognition and conceptual understanding, teacher's beliefs and instructional choices, problem-solving, educational assessment, curriculum development, research methodology, educational change and epistemological aspects of learning.
Off-campus research facilities
WMU is an associated institution with the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics - Center for the Evolution of the Elements (JINA-CEE), and our faculty have particularly strong collaborations with several national and international scientists and agencies. Along with our own facilities, WMU experimental programs frequently make use of large research facilities off campus:
- Hubble Space Telescope
- Advanced Photon Source (Argonne National Laboratory), Illinois
- Argonne National Laboratory Tandem Linac Accelerator System, Illinois
- Michigan State University National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory
- Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (Brookhaven National Laboratory), New York
- Lurie Nanofabrication Facility, University of Michigan