Research Groups

The department of Physics at WPI is home to many internationally recognized research groups. Learn more about the groups operating in two of the most exciting fields of physics – biophysics and nanoscience.

Biophysics Research Groups

Germano Iannacchione’s group studies order-disorder phenomena in biomaterials. Using calorimetric, dielectric spectroscopic, and optical microscopy techniques, they study the ordering and self-assembly of biomaterials such as proteins, DNA, and cholesterols. Current work is focused on understanding the elements controlling protein denaturing and folding dynamics, mesoscopic phase behavior of DNA segments, and self-assemblies of filament, tubule, and helical microstructures formed in cholesterol-based model-bile systems. Learn more…

Stephan Koehler’s group investigates soft condensed matter with potential application to self-propulsion. They are studying flow and transport in complex, structured fluids, such as foams and granular media. The goal is to develop continuum-based models and theories based upon measurements. These models in turn will be used to study self-propulsion in complex fluids, such as sand-swimming snakes or micro-organisms moving in two-phase media such as emulsion. They are collaborating with WPI’s robotics engineering group on building an autonomous sand-swimmer. title="Learn more">Learn more…

Marko B. Popovic, assistant research professor, leads Popovic Labs. His goal is to answer how living systems function and to synthesize systems that have resembling architecture and functionality and/or may improve life. To this end, research within Popovic Labs is rather an interdisciplinary endeavor which integrates applied and theoretical physics, biomechanics and robotics as well as biomedical engineering, neuroscience, biology and even social studies. Please visit RESEARCH PAGE to learn more on current and past projects. Prof. Popovic is also actively researching and building new physics models that may explain Higgs sector. Learn more...

George Phillies’ group works in the field of abstract statistical mechanics, notably simple liquids and liquids containing objects that have multiple distance scales. Recent research topics have included molecular dynamics simulations of Lennard-Jones fluids approaching the glass transition, interpretation of quasi-elastic light scattering spectra in terms of particle displacements, and the phenomenology of polymer solution dynamics. The last of these is represented systematically by Phillies’ recent monograph "Phenomenology of Polymer Solution Dynamics" (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Currently-contemplated future directions for work include novel mathematical methods (e.g., Lie algebras) for approaching temporal dynamics, molecular hydrodynamics, and computer molecular dynamics simulations. Learn more…

Izabela Stroe’s group studies the thermodynamics and dynamics of proteins and nucleic acids. They are investigating how water affects the structure and stability of proteins, how much water surrounds the biological molecules, how water controls the motion of proteins and nucleic acids, and what the role of water is in protein folding and in DNA transcription. Their toolbox includes unique combinations of dielectric relaxation spectroscopy, relaxation calorimetry, and resonant ultrasound spectroscopy. Answering these questions will lead to a better understanding of protein conformation diseases, to the design-specific inhibitors of undesired protein interactions, and to the ability to rationalize the specific affinity of drugs to misfolded and aggregated proteins. Learn more…

Erkan Tüzel's group seeks to identify fundamental mechanisms in biology and emerging nanoscale physics, especially in areas where there is the potential for significant medical and industrial applications. Using theoretical and computational tools (in particular, coarse-grained modeling approaches) to provide insight into open problems in these interdisciplinary areas, the group has been shedding new light on such areas as the dynamics of biopolymers and their interactions with molecular motors, the development and applications of particle-based algorithms for complex fluids, and capillary waves in binary and ternary mixtures. Dr. Tüzel works closely with Dr. Luis Vidali (Biology and Biotechnology) in his explorations of these problems. Learn more…

Qi Wen's group studies the mechanical properties of biomaterials and investigates the mechanical interaction between cells and their extracellular matrix (ECM). Using physical methods such as rheology, microfluidics and with a combination of optical microscopy and atomic force microscopy they characterize mechanics of living cells and other biomaterials on both macro- and micro-scopic levels. They aim to explore the molecular mechanism for unique mechanical properties of ECM and cells.  By investigating how ECM mechanical properties affect cellular functions such as cell morphology, cytoskeletal stiffness, migration and differentiation, they also aim to demystify the molecular mechanism cells apply to convert mechanical signals to biochemical signals. Results of these research will ultimately benefit research on novel materials for wound healing, tissue engineering, and tumor treatment.  Learn more...

Nanoscience Research Groups

P.K. Aravind’s research centers on quantum mechanics and quantum information theory. He has worked on refinements of proofs of the Bell and Kochen-Specker theorems and their applications to quantum protocols such as state discrimination and cryptography. In 2001 he proposed a scheme (simultaneously with, but independently of, Adan Cabello) for proving Bell’s theorem “without probabilities” using an entangled state of four quantum particles shared between two observers. More recently he and his collaborators have worked on geometric proofs of the Kochen-Specker theorem, based on structures such as the 600-cell, that suggest new experimental tests of quantum contextuality. Learn more…

Nancy Burnham's nanomechanics group studies the mechanical properties of materials at the nanoscale, typically using atomic force microscopy (AFM). Projects in this area take various forms, from instrumentation and nanometrology, to revamping existing theory in light of new experimental data, to applications as diverse as the minimization of adhesion in microsensor systems, the use of nanoparticles for wastewater treatment, and sustainable asphalt binders for the four million miles of roads in the U.S. Other areas of current (2012) interest are the influence of surface roughness on the capacitance of electrodes, effects of substrate compliance on the behavior of individual cells, and how bacterial exopolymers respond to their environment. Future avenues for research, for which talented and dedicated students would be welcomed, might include the mechanics of kinesin's motion along microtubules and AFM-based sensors for monitoring of health. Learn more…

Ramdas Ram-Mohan has developed an international reputation as a pioneer in solid state physics, a field that has helped propel extraordinary advances in the speed and power of computers, telecommunications systems, lasers, and other high-tech devices. In addition to exploring the quantum mechanical properties of condensed matter, he has developed powerful computational tools that have made it possible to predict with great accuracy the properties of increasingly complex semiconductor and optoelectronic devices and to precisely control the design of these ubiquitous systems.

The director of the university's Center for Computational Nanoscience, Ram-Mohan's work on high-energy physics, condensed matter, and semiconductor physics has resulted in more than 200 peer-reviewed publications that have garnered more than 3,800 citations. He is also the founder of wavefunction engineering, a method for specifying certain quantum properties of semiconductor heterostructures—assemblies of two dissimilar semiconductor materials that display unique electrical or optoelectronic properties. This innovative method arises from the application of the finite element method, or FEM, a numerical analysis technique used widely in engineering, to quantum heterostructures. Ram-Mohan, recognized as one of the foremost authorities on FEM, described this new field in his landmark 2002 book, Finite Element and Boundary Element Applications to Quantum Mechanics. Learn more…

The Center for Computational Nanoscience (CCN) was created to address the solving of nonlinear problems in many fields utilizing a multidisciplinary approach. Ideas come from physics, numerical analysis, computer science, and other fields of research. Some areas of research being addressed at the CCN include quantum modeling of nanostructures, quantum computation, designing MEMS (micro-electromechanical systems), NEMS (nonoscale electromechanical systems, multi-component diffusion in fluids and solids, nonlinear optics, and mathematical biology).

Richard Quimby and his students study fundamental aspects of lasers, fiber optics, and optical spectroscopy that are relevant for contemporary photonic devices. Both experimental and numerical modeling work is being pursued. Current interests include modeling of high power fiber lasers, new host materials for mid-infrared fiber lasers, and novel light field distributions in an optical fiber. The latter includes light with orbital angular momentum. Learn more…

Alex Zozulya's group does research in ultracold atom optics. This includes theoretical analysis of Bose-Einstein condensate-based atom interferometers and gyroscopes, atom "chip" technology and, more recently, atomtronics. The field of atomtronics deals with creating atomic devices and circuits that have functionality of their electronic counterparts and can do much more.

One of the most important components of a microelectronic circuit is a transistor. Several years ago Prof. Zozulya's group in collaboration with researchers from University of Colorado at Boulder proposed an atomic device which they called an atom transistor. It enables one to control a large atomic flux with a smaller atomic flux and demonstrates switching and both differential and absolute gain, thus showing behavior similar to that of an electronic transistor. An atom transistor can be used to build a variety of atomtronic circuits such as atom amplifiers, oscillators, logic gates etc. Additionally, since in atomic world we deal with coherent interactions, atomtronic circuits are much more interesting than their electronic counterparts. Learn more… 

 
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