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, 2014 and June 30, 2015:
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
On the experimental side, WMU researchers take data from our own tandem Van de Graaff accelerator, as well as larger accelerators off site. Topics of interest include excitation, ionization and charge transfer processes between ions and atoms, and detailed atomic, ionic and molecular spectroscopy using lasers and synchrotron radiation.
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 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 subfield in physics. It involves many different types of research on thousands of different materials, in both pure and applied areas. 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 Anderson localization, dynamic Heisenberg magnetic alloys 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 can explain much of the evolution of the universe in the first minutes and years after the "big bang”.
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 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