Prospective Physics Graduate Students – Research Areas

1.   Atomic and Optical Physics

Links to the research program in Atomic and Optical Physics at MIT can be found at http://cua.mit.edu

Here is a short description of the research performed in the groups:

  • Capellaro:  Our group studies quantum dynamics and control in spin systems, with applications to quantum information and precision measurement.  See http://qeg.mit.edu/index.php

  • Chuang: We investigate the broad foundations and applications of quantum information science, both experimentally and theoretically. How do new primitives like quantum gates and quantum error correction enable new algorithms and protocols, and how can these ideas be realized in practice, with small quantum computers?  We have an operating trapped-ion quantum computing system, in collaboration with Lincoln Labs, and are looking for new students to join. See http://web.mit.edu/~cua/www/quanta/

  • Ketterle:  The Ketterle group focuses on the simulation of condensed-matter systems with degenerate quantum gases and on ultracold molecules. You find links to recent work of the Ketterle labs at http://cua.mit.edu/ketterle_group/

  • Vuletic: Vuletic's group researches quantum systems and many-body entanglement, with focus on overcoming quantum limits on measurements. How can entanglement be used for better quantum sensors and for fundamental measurements? Are there limits to entanglement in bigger and bigger systems? You can find recent work here: http://www.rle.mit.edu/eap/

  • Zwierlein: The Zwierlein group studies strongly interacting Fermi gases of atoms and molecules. We have recently built a novel microscope for fermionic atoms that allows probing strongly correlated states of matter at the single-atom level. In another experiment we have recently produced ultracold fermionic molecules with the aim to create exotic phases of quantum dipolar matter. Please see our group's homepage: http://www.rle.mit.edu/uqg/

2.   Biophysics

The field of biophysics has experienced tremendous growth and excitement in recent years. The Physics of Living Systems Group within the Physics Department at MIT includes over 60 scientists spread across eight research groups. Our goal is to combine a rigorous training in physics together with an interdisciplinary approach to modern problems in biophysics. Graduate students in the Department benefit from an interactive and supportive intellectual community, including the opportunity to earn a Graduate Certificate in Biophysics.

Biophysics research within the Department spans many scales, from the structural organization of polymers to the evolutionary and ecological dynamics of populations. Professor George Benedek is one of the pioneers in the biophysics of “soft” materials, and currently works on various forms of protein condensations and phase transitions. Professor Nikta Fakhri combines concepts from biology, soft matter and statistical physics to decode non-equilibrium mechanisms in active living matter. Professor Ibrahim Cissé uses physical techniques to visualize weak and transient biological interactions, to study emergent phenomena in live cells with single molecule sensitivity. Professor Jeff Gore uses microbial populations to experimentally test fundamental ideas in theoretical ecology and evolutionary dynamics.

On the theoretical front, Professor Jeremy England and his group focus on structure, function, and evolution in the sub-cellular biophysical realm. Professor Mehran Kardar is a statistical physicist with interests in pattern formation, protein knots, and the immune response. Additionally, three theorists have joint appointments in the Department. Professor Leonid Mirny is a computational systems biologist with major efforts devoted to characterizing the spatial organization of the genome and the evolutionary dynamics in cancer. Professor Arup Chakraborty uses statistical mechanical methods to complement biological experiments and clinical data to understand how the adaptive immune system works.

3.   Astrophysics, Space and Planetary Physics (Experimental)

There is a wide range of experimental astrophysics research at MIT, from exoplanets to black holes and gravitational waves.  Astrophysics at MIT is a division of the physics department, and operates within the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI).  Examples of active research faculty are

  • Prof. Crossfield's group seeks out and studies planetary systems orbiting other stars in order to determine their formation, elemental composition, atmospheric chemistry, and long-term evolution.  The group specializes in optical and infrared observations from a variety of ground- and space-based telescopes including HST, TESS, Keck, Gemini, and others. http://www.mit.edu/~iancross/

  • Prof’s Vitale, Mavalvala and Evans work on gravitational-wave physics as part of the LIGO Laboratory at MIT.  Vitale’s work is focused on astrophysics, relativity and data analysis, leading him to work closely with Prof. Hughes (relativity theory) and others at MKI.  Prof. Mavalvala works on experimental quantum optics and quantum optomechanics with the primary goal of improving the sensitivity of gravitational-wave detectors.  Prof. Evans also works on gravitational-wave instrument development, including problem solving and planning for the next generation of detectors.

3 and 4.   Astrophysics - Experimental (EAST) and Theoretical (TAST)

Experimental (EAST) and theoretical (TAST) astrophysics research at MIT spans a huge range in scales, from black holes and planets to the largest structures in the universe. Broadly, this research can be classified into three topics:

  • Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology: This includes the search for the epoch of reionization (Hewitt) and the first generation of stars (Frebel), the study of structure formation on the scales of galaxies (Simcoe), clusters of galaxies (McDonald, Canizares), and the universe itself (Masui, Bertschinger, Vogelsberger, Tegmark). Experimental astrophyscists working in this field use telescopes at all wavelengths, with a focus on radio (CHIME, South Pole Telescope, HERA), optical (Magellan Telescope, Hubble Space Telescope), and X-ray (Chandra X-ray Observatory). On the theory side, MIT is a partner in the Illustris cosmological simulations, which attempt to replicate the Universe that we see today based on a simple set of initial conditions.

  • Compact Objects and Gravitational Radiation: This includes the study of compact objects ranging in scale from neutron stars and low mass black holes (Chakrabarty, Weinberg, Hughes, Kara) to supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies (Canizares, Simcoe, McDonald). Much of the observational work is enabled by X-ray telescopes such as Chandra and NICER, which are hosted at MIT. The recent success of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) has allowed a new window into the compact object Universe, allowing the study of merging neutron stars and black holes through gravitational radiation (Evans, Vitale, Mavalvala). On the theory side, both numerical simulations and analytic theory (Weinberg, Hughes) provides predictions for both the X-ray and gravitational wave observations.

  • Exoplanets and the Solar System: This includes the study of stellar systems ranging from our sun and its neighborhood (Belcher) to stars and planets outside of our solar system (Crossfield, Seager). As the home to the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), astronomers at MIT are discovering hundreds of new planets every year, which are followed up using observatories such as the Magellan Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope, or the soon-to-be-launched James Webb Space Telescope. Within our solar system, observations from satellites like Voyager are still providing valuable information about the heliosphere and astrophysical plasmas.

5.   Condensed Matter Physics (Experimental)

The Experimental Condensed Matter Physics group specializes in the study of quantum matter in its many fascinating realizations -- 2D atomic crystals (including graphene and transition metal dichalcogenides) and van der Waals heterostructures thereof, high-mobility electron fluids, topological materials, high-temperature superconductors, strongly-correlated electron systems, and many more. Our experimental techniques and methods represent a uniquely assorted toolset, that includes: single-crystal and thin film synthesis; device nanofabrication; milli-Kelvin and high-field quantum electronic transport, capacitance, and tunnelling measurements; equilibrium and ultrafast photon, electron, photo-electron, and scanning near field spectroscopy and scattering.  For more information, see to http://web.mit.edu/physics/research/abcp/areas.html#cmx

6.   Condensed Matter Physics (Theory)

The condensed matter theory group at MIT covers a broad range of activities that can roughly be divided into four major themes:

  • One is the study of strongly correlated materials, where the strong interaction between electrons in the solid state gives rise to novel phenomena. Examples are the fractional quantum Hall effect and high temperature superconductivity.

  • A second direction is the study of how electronic behavior is changed when the electrons are confined to nanometer-size structures, either in man-made quantum dots or in carbon nanotubes or nanowires. The phase coherence of the electron waves leads to novel behavior, and the understanding of phase coherence is crucial for the development of quantum computation and quantum information science.

  • A third theme is nano-photonics: manipulation of light on length-scales substantially shorter than the wavelength of light, on very short time-scales, and at ultra-low energy levels.

  • Finally, tools and concepts of statistical physics are employed to study the structure, function, and evolution of biological molecules, cells, and networks, as well as other complex forms of soft condensed matter. In all of these areas, the methodology includes analytic tools based on field theory methods, the development of computer algorithm, and the use of high performance computation.

7.   High Energy and Nuclear Physics (Experimental)

MIT Physics Department faculty work with their research groups in MIT's Laboratory for Nuclear Science (LNS) to understand the structures and interactions of the fundamental constituents of matter. They carry out research in nuclear and particle physics, subfields that are seamlessly integrated at MIT. Their work is often done with large experimental equipment located away from MIT, using state-of-the-art computers, and with guidance and assistance from highly skilled engineering and technical staff.

Nuclear physics experiments are performed with electrons at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility, with polarized protons at Brookhaven National Laboratory, with neutrons at the Los Alamos Neutron Science Center, and with electrons and positrons at the DESY Laboratory in Germany. The high-energy particle physics program involves experiments with both high-energy protons and heavy ions at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland; the search for antimatter and dark matter in space with the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer on the International Space Station; and additional dark matter experiments at WIPP in New Mexico and SNOLab in Canada. Properties of neutrinos are being explored through experiments at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Karlsruhe, Germany, and Chooz, France.

8.   High Energy and Nuclear Physics (Theory)

The division of Theoretical Nuclear and Particle Physics has its home in the Center for Theoretical Physics in the new Green Center. Here theoretical physicists work on many aspects of particle and nuclear physics as well as on quantum computing. The efforts in particle physics go from exploring physics at the energy scales being probed by the Large Hadron Collider to much higher energies where string theory may give a picture of how gravity is united with the other forces.  The nuclear and particle physicists in the Center are interested in understanding both what will happen when protons are collided at the LHC as well as the droplets of quark-gluon plasma made in collisions of heavy nuclei. Particle physics is a key component of our understanding of the early universe and physicists in the Center for Theoretical Physics work on the inflationary universe and other areas of cosmology. At lower energies, physicists are attempting to understand the nature of the strong interactions which is the force that holds the proton together. Here pencil and paper calculations aided by massive numerical calculations are used to gain insight into the workings of the strong force.

Physicists in the Center work beyond the usual boundaries of particle and nuclear physics. String theorists are exploring connections with condensed matter physics. Particle physicists are using ideas from topology to understand recently discovered materials. Quantum field theory techniques are being used to calculate forces caused by fluctuations in the vacuum. Ideas from physics are being used to design algorithms that would be run on quantum computers which, if ever built, would have power way beyond that of conventional computers.The division of Theoretical Nuclear and Particle Physics stays at the cutting edge.

9.   Plasma Physics, Nuclear Fusion, Rel. Beam Physics

The plasma research effort at MIT is concerned with a wide variety of problems, ranging from astrophysical plasmas to laboratory and fusion-grade plasmas, as well as with using plasmas for environmental remediation. This work combines theory and experiment and involves faculty members from physics and other departments. The program has the goals of understanding the physics of plasmas and charged-particle beams and of designing plasma containment devices, with the ultimate aim of achieving the conditions in which a plasma can ignite by fusion reactions. Research is carried out not only on-site, but also at other major national and international laboratories.

Most of the volume of the universe is in the electrodynamic plasma state. Moreover, the dynamics of the universe on a grand scale is described as a gravitational plasma. The theory of galaxies as gravitational plasmas is well-developed and its results, for example, spiral arm structures, are relatively well-correlated with the experimental observations. While many aspects of laboratory plasmas are understood and correlate with experiments in relatively simple magnetic geometries, the physics of high-temperature plasmas on a microscopic scale continues to be an area of intensive investigation.

The dynamics of laboratory plasmas, charged-particle beams, and space and astrophysical plasmas are often strongly influenced by the excitation of collective modes with similar characteristics and common theoretical descriptions. The interaction of collective modes, both with each other and with charged particles, results in a variety of highly nonlinear phenomena of great importance for fusion, astrophysical and nonneutral plasmas, as well as for accelerators and coherent radiation sources.

10.      Quantum Information Science (Experimental)

Experimental quantum information processing on platforms that include trapped atoms, superconducting qubits and nitrogen vacancy centers.  The faculty in this area include Isaac Chuang, Will Oliver, Vladan Vuletic and Paola Cappellaro (Nuclear Science & Engineering).

11.      Quantum Information Science (Theory)

Study the theory of quantum information and quantum computing.  Topics include quantum algorithms, error correction, complexity, information theory and connections to physical systems such as field theories.   The faculty in this area are Isaac Chuang, Daniel Harlow, Aram Harrow, Seth Lloyd and Peter Shor (math).