Apr 14, 2021  
Rensselaer Catalog 2012-2013 
Rensselaer Catalog 2012-2013 [Archived Catalog]

Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy

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Head: Angel E. Garcia

Associate Head:
Peter D. Persans

Department Home Page:

Physics is the source of new concepts about the nature of the universe and is a driving force for new technologies. The fundamental physics research of one generation frequently leads to the applied physics and technology of the next.

The Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy programs prepare undergraduate students to contribute to these new concepts and technologies through innovative teaching methods that combine student-faculty interactions, computer-based education, and “hands-on” experience in modern laboratories. The curricula are flexible so that students can prepare for either technical employment upon graduation or for graduate study in physics, applied physics, engineering, or other disciplines. Physics also provides an excellent foundation for a nontechnical career. Another important aspect of the physics program is student-faculty research projects involving collaboration between physics undergraduates and faculty on a variety of research topics at the forefront of the field.

The Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy’s graduate programs lead to the M.S. and the Ph.D. in physics. These degrees are available in several research areas that are summarized below. For graduate students specializing in Astronomy and Astrophysics, the M.S. degree is available either in Astronomy or Physics with specialization in Astrophysics.

Rensselaer’s graduate study in physics prepares students for a variety of careers including industrial research and development, government laboratory research, and university research and teaching. The department conducts both fundamental and applied research, often in collaboration with researchers from other Rensselaer departments, other universities, industry, or the National Laboratories. Characterizing the Physics Department’s intellectual climate are lively interactions between theorists and experimentalists with common research interests. Colloquia and department seminars supplement course work. As an important part of their graduate education, students collaborate with faculty members to make original research contributions in their area of specialization. Many have won national competitive graduate student research awards.

Research Innovations and Initiatives

Astronomy and Astrophysics
Research in the astrophysics group includes astrobiology, the chemistry of the interstellar medium, and Galactic structure. Research in astrobiology is funded by NASA through a grant to the interdisciplinary New York Center for Astrobiology. This research seeks to understand how interstellar clouds evolve into new solar systems. Current observational work focuses on spectroscopic detection of organic molecules in interstellar dust and gas and their contribution to the organic inventory of protoplanetary disks. Theoretical projects include simulations of protostellar collapse, multifluid magnetohydrodynamic shock waves, and shock chemistry. Galactic structure research focuses on the outer structure of the Milky Way as revealed by millions of stars in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Chinese Guoshoujing Telescope (formerly LAMOST) spectral survey of Galactic stars. The structure is used to constrain the processes by which the Milky Way galaxy formed and the distribution of the dark matter within it. The astrophysics group makes use of ground-based telescopes located at world class observing sites in the USA and Chile. Rensselaer also has access to data from major orbiting and airborne facilities, including the Hubble Space Telescope, Chandra, the Infrared Space Observatory, the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, and large ground-based astronomy projects, including the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Two Micron All Sky Survey (2MASS).

Biological Physic
Current research addresses theoretical and computational aspects of dynamics and statistical mechanics of biomolecular systems. The objectives are to understand the structure, dynamics, stability and function of biomolecules from physical principles. Protein folding, binding and dynamics are important for understanding how proteins work and how they interact with other biomolecules. Knowledge gained from this research has applications in biotechnology, drug design, and biomaterials.  Parallel computer simulation methods are being applied to study protein folding, binding, and aggregation. Highly parallel computer simulations of the folding and thermodynamics of biomolecules in aqueous solutions are being performed. Other research interests include the hydrophobic effect, enzyme catalysis, nucleic acids, proteins, and membranes.

First principles quantum mechanical modeling and molecular mechanics scheme (QM/MM) research are being carried out to address various issues involving enzyme catalysis of inteins, a class of proteins that is able to excise part of itself and rejoin the remaining fragments. These proteins are being used in biotechnology applications.

Condensed Matter Physics
The program concerns many aspects of matter in the condensed phase. The bulk of the matter, its surfaces and interfaces, is distinguished in experiment and theory. Of interest are new concepts, materials, and techniques for high technology, nano technology, and green technology such as renewable energy, energy conservation, energy conversion, storage, and delivery. Many research projects are highly interdisciplinary and part of dedicated centers.

For the experimental study of materials, structures, and devices, metals, semiconductors, and insulators are prepared in thin film deposition and epitaxial growth. Their structural, electronic transport, spin, and optical properties are characterized and compared to theoretical and numerical investigations.

In theoretical work, the behavior of individual atoms, molecules and entire nanostructures are predicted in first principle calculations.

The matter of particular study includes wide bandgap semiconductors, photonic crystals, polymers, semiconductor nanoparticle composites, dielectrics, magnetic, and metallic thin films and nanostructures. 

Characterization techniques include a wide range of electron, x-ray, ultraviolet, visible, infrared, terahertz, and scanning probe spectroscopies and microscopies. Methods of first principles calculation, low-temperature, vacuum, optics, electronics, and gas handling systems are being utilized.

Facilities include a Linux cluster, a local Blue Gene super computer, and access to national computer facilities. On-campus resources include also the Micro and Nano Fabrication Clean Room, the Microelectronics Clean Room, and the Electron Microscope Laboratory. Off-campus accelerators at the University of Albany and the National Synchrotron Light Source are being used.

The faculty substantially contribute to the Center for Terahertz Research, the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, the Center for Integrated Electronics, the Focus Center for Interconnects, the Center for Advanced Interconnect Systems Technologies, and the New York State Center for Future Energy Systems.

Optical Physics
Department research in optical physics covers a wide range of activities related to photons and their interaction with various materials. Experimental and theoretical research is on-going to give innovative solutions to today’s problems in both fundamental and application aspects of the research area. Particularly, the goals of the activities are directed towards the development of novel nanoelectronic and nanophotonic devices, and creative solutions for homeland security, renewable energies, biological and biomedical investigations, solar harvesting, and smart lighting.

Faculty research includes photonic crystals, plasmonics, photonic nanostructures, light emitting diodes, terahertz photonics, spectroscopy, chemical and biological sensing and identification, ultrafast and nonlinear phenomena, the development of novel ultrafast spectroscopic techniques, development of novel optical materials including wideband gap and narrow band gap semiconductors, metallic nanoparticles, nanowires and their arrays, semiconducting quantum dots and quantum wells, amorphous materials. Major facilities include various types of ultrafast lasers and ultrafast spectroscopy systems, terahertz spectroscopy systems, a micro and nanofabrication clean room for semiconductor processing, linear and nonlinear optical absorption, luminescence, Raman and Brillouin scattering, and various types of modulation spectroscopy systems.

Many faculty members in optical physics are simultaneously involved in other research areas such as condensed matter physics. Faculty members in this area contribute to the activities in the Center for Terahertz Research, the Interconnect Focus Center, the Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center, and the New York State Center for Future Energy Systems.

Particle Physics
The nature and structure of matter and energy remains one of man’s research frontiers. The faculty are engaged in experimental and theoretical studies of the fundamental interactions of matter at sub-femtometer distances. This includes a search for neutrino oscillations using a nuclear reactor complex in China, and R&D for a future long baseline neutrino experiment between FermiLab and the DUSEL facility in South Dakota. A longstanding program of experiments at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility (JLab), examines the properties of the proton and its excited states.  

The theoretical high energy physics research program focuses on aspects of physical interactions beyond the Standard Model. This includes investigations of new strong dynamics using lattice simulations and gauge-gravity dualities, with applications to supersymmetric and walking technicolor models.

Undergraduate Programs

Undergraduate students begin with core curriculum courses that teach basic scientific principles and develop skills in problem solving, scientific thinking, and clear oral and written expression. Students also choose from a broad range of advanced courses in the Department of Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy and in other science and engineering departments depending upon their individual career goals.

Baccalaureate Programs

Rensselaer offers two undergraduate programs in physics, one leading to the B.S. in Physics and the other to the B.S. in Applied Physics. Students in the applied physics program must declare a concentration in a specific technological area, in which they take at least four elective courses.

Dual Major Programs

Physics students can obtain a dual major with any other degree at Rensselaer by fulfilling the requirements for both degrees. Overlapping requirements can be applied to both programs, permitting many dual degrees to be completed with the credits required for one degree. In some cases, special templates have been agreed upon which permit specific substitutions of courses. An example, the Applied Physics/ECSE program, can be found online at the ECSE department Web site.

Co-terminal Program

Students may generally select, in their junior year, to follow a five-year B.S.-M.S. program. These students receive the B.S. in physics and the M.S. in either physics or another science or engineering discipline.

Graduate Programs

Graduate students develop flexible individual programs of study and research in one or more of the available research areas. The department offers both the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physics, and a M.S. degree in astronomy.

Course Descriptions

Courses directly related to all Physics, Applied Physics, and Astronomy curricula are described in the Course Description section of this catalog under the department codes PHYS or ASTR.



Garcia, A.E.—Ph.D. (Cornell University); theoretical and computational statistical mechanics of biomolecules.

Jackson, S.A.—Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology); theoretical physics (Joint appointment with Engineering).

Lin, S.-Y.—Ph.D. (Princeton University); theory, fabrication, and experimental assessment of photonic crystal structures.

Lu, T.-M.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); thin films and interfaces.

Morse.J.A.—Ph.D. (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill); observational astronomy and astrophysics.

Napolitano, J.J.—Ph.D. (Stanford University); experimental nuclear and particle physics.

Nayak, S.K.Ph.D. (Jawarharlal Nehru University); theoretical and computational physics, first principle calculations.

Newberg, H.J.—Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley); astrophysics.

Persans, P.D.—Ph.D. (University of Chicago); spectroscopy of semiconductors, thin films, optical materials.

Roberge, W.G.—Ph.D. (Harvard University); theoretical astrophysics.

Schroeder, J.—Ph.D. (Catholic University of America); physics and biological physics high pressure.

Shur, M.S.—Dr.Sc. (Ioffe Institute); semiconductor physics, ballistic transport, terahertz radiation (Primary appointment with ECSE).

Stoler, P.—Ph.D. (Rutgers University); experimental particle/nuclear physics, structure of hadrons.

Wang, G.-C.—Ph.D. (University of Wisconsin); nanostructure physics and characterization.

Wetzel, C.M.—Ph.D. (Technical University, Munich); III-V nitride semiconductor physics and technology in particular for lighting and photovoltaics.

Whittet, D.C.B.—Ph.D. (St. Andrews University); astrophysics, observational astronomy, interstellar dust; origins of life.

Zhang, S. B.—Ph.D. (University of California at Berkeley); computational condensed matter theory, lower-dimension materials, defects in optoelectronic and photovoltaic materials, and physics and chemistry of energy storage materials.


Associate Professors

Korniss, G.—Ph.D. (Virginia Tech); statistical mechanics, dynamics in complex networks. 

Meunier, V.—Ph.D. (University of Namur, Belgium); computational solid state physics, electronic transport, energy storage, and low-dimensional structures. 

Wilke, I.—Ph.D. (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology); ultrafast optics, photonics, optoelectronics and terahertz science and technology.

Yamaguchi, M.—Ph.D. (Hokkaido University); THz wave generation, pulse shaping, THz spectroscopy; acoustic/thermal transport in nanoscale materials; phonon and electron dynamics in condensed matter.

Assistant Professors

Giedt, J.—Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley); particle phenomenology, lattice field theory, string theory, high energy mathematical and computational physics.

Lewis, K.M.—Ph.D. (University of Michigan); molecular electronics; transport in hybrid electronics; single electron devices.

Professor of Practice

Washington, M.A.—Ph.D. (New York University); photonics.

Adjunct Faculty

Dwyer, S.R.—Ph.D. (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute); tribology, surface science and physics education.

Kubarovsky, V.—Ph.D. (Institute for High Energy Physics, Russia); experimental nuclear physics.

Lee, S.—Ph.D. (University of Michigan); X-ray diffraction, environmentally-friendly thin films and nanostructures.

Lee, S.—Ph.D. (Harvard); photonics and x-ray optics.

Trinkala, M.—Ph.D. (SUNY Albany); theoretical physics, gravitation.

Zhang, X.-C.—Ph.D. (Brown University); ultrafast optics, nonlinear photonic, laser, optoelectronic, and terahertz science, technology, and application. 

Research Associate Professor

Detchprohm, T.—Ph.D. (Nagoya University); III-V nitride semiconductor epitaxy and related device technology.

Research Assistant Professors

Herce, H.D.—Ph.D.(North Carolina University); computational and experimental molecular biology.

Sun, Y.—Ph.D. (National University of Singapore); computational materials science.

Visiting Professor

Schowalter, L.J.—Ph.D. (University of Illinois); material physics.

Visiting Scientists

Alizadeh, A.—Ph.D. (Universidad Autonoma de Madrid); nanostructured surfaces in applications ranging from icephobicity to cell growth to optoelectronic devices.

Cummings, J.—Ph.D. (Rice University); experimental nuclear and particle physics.

Cruz-Silva, E.—Ph.D. (Instituto Potosino de Investigacion Cientifica yTechnologica); ab initio and semi-empirical methods; electronic quantum transport; doping of carbon-based nanostructures.

* Departmental faculty listings are accurate as of the date generated for inclusion in this catalog. For the most up-to-date listing of faculty positions, including end-of-year promotions, please refer to the Faculty Roster section of this catalog, which is current as of the May 2012 Board of Trustees meeting.




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