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Academic Research

As a Loyola student, you have the opportunity to work alongside our talented professors to partner in collaborative research. Learn more about some recent research and projects currently underway.

Statistical and Computational Physics

Statistical Physics is the science concerned with how small-scale interactions among the building blocks of large systems influence the shape, design and behavior of macroscopic systems or phenomena. As such, its scope is vast and covers phenomena as complex as the folding of biopolymers, the dynamics of granular materials, the formation of droplets in liquids, etc. One of the goals of statistical physics is to explore the similarities among different phenomena and to develop mathematical descriptions, which can describe those universal aspects. The use of computer simulation is a powerful tool for working in statistical physics, and requires excellent programming skills. Undergraduate students interested in working in statistical physics learn the necessary basic skills of computer programming. As part of ongoing research projects, students learn how to model large-scale systems at the microscopic level, and are guided to observing and studying the dynamics exhibited by such systems under the change of external or internal conditions. 

Quantum Optics

Experiments using light quanta – photons – have proven to be very effective probes of a large range of phenomena, including quantum entanglement. This phenomenon has long fascinated scientists, and exemplifies the mystery and ‘weirdness’ of quantum physics. It also points the way towards the possibility in the future of extremely powerful quantum computers.

In the Quantum Optics Lab in the Physics Department at Loyola University we are in the process of setting up an experiment to explore quantum entanglement, in particular by testing something known as Bell’s theorem.

Students are involved in all aspects of the work, from putting together and aligning optical components, to building electronics, to using computers to acquire, analyze and model the data. 

Biophysics

Biophysics studies complex properties of living organisms using physical methods. It is a bridge between biology which investigates life in its variety and complexity and physics that searches for first principles, simple mathematical laws characterizing natural processes. Biophysicists study life phenomena at different levels, from atoms and molecules, through cells, organs, organisms, to ecosystems. 

Biophysics Lab in the Physics Department at Loyola University is devoted to cellular biophysics, and specifically to physical mechanisms of membrane transport, such as ion channels. Ion channels are proteins in cellular membranes that control the exchange of ions between a cell and its surroundings. It is known that ions such as potassium, sodium, or calcium play a fundamental role in important physiological processes, e.g. neuron signaling or muscle contraction.

Biophysics research combines experiments, computations, and theoretical analysis. Student researchers in the Biophysics lab can choose between doing experiments (preparing biological samples, performing patch-clamping experiments) and computational work (analysis of raw experimental data generated from patch-clamping experiments, simulation of ionic currents, and building models of channel gating kinetics).

Cosmology

Both theoretically and observationally cosmology has growning in stature over the last decade or so. Still several puzzling questions remain: How did it all start, did our universe emerge from a singularity? Was there a beginning of time, or can one trace time all the way back to –infinity? What about dark matter and dark energy, what are they made of?

Dr. Biswas research tries to address these questions. His current projects involve cyclic cosmological models and the dark energy puzzle.

 

Gravitational Physics

Gravitational physics,  both theory (Dr. Brans and Dr. Biswas) and experiments (Dr. McHugh), has been a major focus of research in the physics department.

Physics Professor Emeritus Carl Brans research of relativity is closely related to Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Its presently known inadequacies have led to speculation on various alternatives to the standard Einstein equations. Dr. Biswas' research mostly focuses on investigating the consistency and viability of such alternative models of gravity. He is especially interested in cosmological applications of string theory inspired gravity models. Martin McHugh has worked on the experimental search for gravitational waves – most recently as part of the large international collaboration known as LIGO. While his more recent research interest involves quantum optics, he is also working on a project about the history of physics, which includes a biography of Robert H. Dicke. 

The participation of most undergraduates generally starts with learning the necessary mathematical tools to enter and make contributions to this field. This includes learning special and general theory of relativity, tensor calculus, and partial differential equations. The students can then get involved in research in areas such as dark energy, inflationary cosmology, experimental tests of gravity, etc.