Innovative Research Labs

Next Generation Photovoltaics

Alexi Arango's lab focuses on three projects: cascade energy photovoltaics, quantum dot photovoltaics, and electro-modulation imaging.  These projects have the eventual goal of constructing efficient tandem cells, ultimately leading to large-area, lightweight, flexible solar cells.

Nanoscience, Materials Science and Applied Physics Research

Kathy Aidala and her team are exploring the areas of magnetic nanorings, semiconductors and the adhesion and elasticity of "squishy things". 

Theoretical Physics

Mark Peterson and his students specialize in mathematical modeling and other theoretical problems, sometimes in support of the experimental labs. 

Squishy Physics: Mechanics of Fluids and Complex Materials

Kerstin Nordstrom's lab is also called the CRAM lab, which stands for Complex  Rheology And Many-many body systems. Rheology is the study of how materials flow and deform. When a fluid (or fluid-like) material is complex, that means it is made of multiple components. The interactions of components, particularly their physical structure, give rise to interesting flow behaviors. For instance, even though human blood is mostly water by chemical composition, blood flows much differently than pure water, since the blood cells are mechanically interacting with each other and with the plasma.

The CRAM lab experimentally studies complex systems using high-speed video analysis and microscopy techniques, and supplements experimentation with simulations and mathematical modeling. For Summer 2015, the lab will study two systems: sand avalanches and the flow of hydrogels in microfluidic devices. Students entering the lab could be trained in one or more of these skills:  design and fabrication of microfluidic devices, chemical synthesis of hydrogels, 3D printing of materials, computer simulations, mathematical modeling, machine vision (particle tracking and particle image velocimetry), programming in MATLAB for data analysis, fluorescence microscopy, ultra high-speed video acquisition and triggering systems. 

Theoretical and Computational Physics

Professor Spencer Smith’s lab is interested in using the mathematical ideas of nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory, as well as topology, to provide insight into the behavior of fluid systems.  Much of his work involves constructing and playing around with computational models.  He is also very interested in the intersection of physics and art. 

Medical Physics

Dr. Teresa Herd’s research is in medical physics, specifically quantitative ultrasound. Ultrasound is underutilized as a possible detection and diagnostic tool. Ultrasound Imagining has the advantage of being non-invasive and does not contribute to radiation exposure, which is a particular advantage when dealing with possible cancer-related imaging. Ultrasound radio frequency (rf) echo signals can be used to measure characteristics of scanned tissue such speed of sound, attenuation, and backscatter coefficients. It has been shown that these properties can be used to distinguish between healthy and diseased tissue. In particular, quantitative ultrasound (QUS) can be used to identify malignant compared to benign tumors. Although many studies have been done on ultrasonic tissue properties of tumors, there is little knowledge about why the differences (between malignant and benign) exist.

Her lab uses QUS on cells outside the cellular matrix to identify key differences between cancerous and healthy cells. The speed of sound, attenuation, and backscatter coefficients (BSCs) are measured and BSCs will be used to model scatterer size. These simple experiments can lead to a whole new line of information about the differences between benign and malignant cells. This will establish a database of differences between cells and can be used to identify what is the primary mechanism of scattering.  This will establish a greater understanding of ultrasonic interactions with tissue. Furthermore, this can be used to inform clinical studies on using ultrasound to diagnose or detect cancer.