College of Science and Health > Academics > Physics and Astrophysics > Research

Department Research

Our faculty members are actively engaged in research in various fields of physics. They structure their research so that undergraduates can participate, even beginning very early in their academic career.

Research topics range from experimental to theoretical physics, cosmology to condensed matter, in-house research to studies conducted at laboratories like Argonne National Lab. We encourage you to take the leap and get involved with research at DePaul!

Listed to the left are research groups focusing on specific areas of research. Students at all levels are encouraged to discuss opportunities for conducting research with these groups or with one of the faculty members listed below:

  • Bernhard Beck-Winchatz, Astrophysics, Atmospheric Science
  • Susan M. Fischer: Nuclear Physics, Physics Education Research
  • Gabriela Gonzalez-Aviles: Materials Science
  • Christopher Goedde: Molecular Dynamics, Dynamical Systems, and Computational Physics
  • Mary Bridget Kustusch: Physics Education Research
  • Eric Landahl: Ultra-fast Physics
  • Jesus Pando: Cosmology
  • Anuj P. Sarma: Star Formation, Radio Astronomy

Faculty Research Descriptions

I have an NSF grant with Dr. Sian Beilock, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Chicago, that takes a rather different approach to Physics Education Research. One of the goals of the project is to test whether students can better understand, retain, and apply physics principles if they perform physical, or sensorimotor, tasks related to the concepts. In our study, a group of students in PHY 150 (in the autumn quarter of 2011) studied the concepts of moment of inertia and angular momentum by conducting guided exercises rotating spinning, and non-spinning bicycle wheels. We have collected quiz and homework data for the action and observer groups, and who also had lecture before or after the lab experience.

My research interests are in the area of nonlinear systems. In the past I've worked on understanding chaotic behavior in large-dimensional energy-conserving (Hamiltonian) systems. I've also worked extensively in fiber optics, modeling the propagation of soliton pulses of light as well as studying the noise generated by physical processes such as Raman and Brillouin scattering. Recently I have been working on understanding how systems of coupled oscillators can become synchronized. In such systems, the behavior of each part of the system is oscillatory – the motion of each part repeats itself periodically. However, in a coupled system the behavior of each oscillator is influenced by the behavior of the other oscillators in the system. The motion of the oscillators in such systems can become synchronized, but exactly how and when this happens is not well understood.

My research interests entail using x-ray and neutron diffraction to characterize the atomic-scale structures and defects of crystalline materials. My projects include in-situ, high-temperature, x-ray diffraction investigations of oxides and apatite biomaterials. Students in my group focus on the electrical and structural characterization of zinc-based transparent conductors to determine the effect of atomic and micro-structural changes during processing. Several in-situ, high-temperature, x-ray diffraction investigations are performed at Argonne National Laboratory and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Also, I study the kinetics of crystallization of liquid solution and solid hydroxyapatite precursors and their phase traditions as a function of temperature and substitutional components.

In a broad sense, my research explores how people teach and learn physics. I focus on the use of resources (fine-grained cognitive resources, as well as larger scale cognitive, epistemological, and representational tools) to model how people (students, physicists, teachers) make sense of the world and to model the transition from student to professional physicist. Thus, I study both student understanding and the nature of expertise by studying practicing physicists. In particular, my research focuses on connections between mathematics and physics and the use of multiple representations in physics, especially the use of kinesthetic and embodied experiences as mediating resources. I draw on several research traditions (e.g. physics, education, cognitive psychology, neuroscience) and employ both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. In addition, I use the results of my research in the design and assessment of curricular materials and in the professional development of current and future teachers.

My current research interest is interdisciplinary ultrafast science, concentrating on semiconductor physics and biophysics. My approaches are experimental, theoretical, and computational, and have both an on-campus as well as an off-campus component (utilizing particle accelerator based x-ray sources). Undergraduate and graduate students are involved in all aspects of my research program, including the off-campus research. More information on Dr. Landahl's research is available here.

My research agenda continues to shift from cosmology to protein dynamics. I am currently working on a manuscript that will expand on our original work in protein structure detection. The current work improves our original method by creating an envelope over the wavelet-analyzed hydrophobic signal that more accurately detects the location of secondary structures in the three dimensional protein structure. In addition, a graduate student is working on detecting characterizing differences between different fold families. Lastly, along with my collaborators at the University of Denver, we have begun to study if our technique can be applied to differentiate between thermophilic and mesophilic bacteria.

I also continue to work in cosmology along two fronts. With an undergraduate assistant, we have detected the evolution of the fractal geometry in the distribution of galaxies. The distribution homogenizes just at the time when dark energy becomes the dominant component in the universe. We are investigating if the effect is indeed real or an artifact of the sparse data and numerical techniques used. The second front is a collaborative effort with Dr. Peter Steeves of the Philosophy department, in which we seek to answer some really big questions—why something rather than nothing?— by combining the strengths of physics and philosophy.

Last year, I discovered the Zeeman effect in the 44 GHz line of methanol. This opened up a whole new way of measuring magnetic fields in star forming regions. Provided we can detect the Zeeman effect in other 44 GHz sources throughout the galaxy, we should be able to do some exciting science.

Recent Publications

S. Fischer. "Performance tests of a large area position-sensitive planar germanium detectors with conventional and amorphous contacts" (with S. Gros et al). Nuclear Instruments and Meth. 602A. 466. (2009).

C. Goedde. "The interplay of thermal and pump fluctuations in stimulated Brillouin scattering" (with E. Huynh et al). Optics Communications 281, 836-845. (2008).

G. Gonzalez Aviles. "The Structure of Strontium-doped Hydroxyapatite: An Experimental and Theoretical Study". Phys Chem DOI: 10.1039/b802841a. (2008).

G. Gonzalez Aviles. "In Situ Studies on the Kinetics of Formation and Crystal Structure of the Phase In4Sn3O12 Using High-energy, X-ray Diffraction" (with JS. Okasinski et al). J Appl Phys 104: (4) 043520. (2008).

M.B. Kustusch. "Assessing the impact of representational and contextual problem features on student use of right-hand rules", Physical Review Physics Education Research, 12, 010102, (2016).

M.B. Kustusch. “Student Conceptions of Expertise” (with C. Bertram et al). In C.K. Looi, J. Polman, U.Cress, & P. Reimann (Eds.),  Transforming Learning, Empowering Learners:  The International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS), Vol 2. Singapore:  International Society of the Learning Sciences. (2016).

M.B. Kustusch. “Exploring student difficulties with observation location” (with J. Bryant, R. Dawod, et al). In A. Churukian, D.L. Jones, & L. Ding (Eds.), Physics Education Research Conference , College Park, MD. (2015).

M.B. Kustusch. “Name the experiment! Interpreting thermodynamic derivatives as thought experiments” (with et al). American Journal of Physics, 82, 39-46. (2014).

M.B. Kustusch. “Partial derivative games in thermodynamics: A cognitive task analysis" (with et al). Physical Review Special Topics - Physics Education Research, 10, 010101. (2014).

M.B. Kustusch. “The real prize inside: Learning about science and spectra from cereal boxes” (with R. Beichner et al). The Physics Teacher 47, 450-453. (2009).

M.B. Kustusch. “Scaling up education reform” (with R. Beichner et al). Journal of College Science Teaching, 37, 48-53. (2008).

E. Landahl.  "Measuring femtometer lattice displacements driven by free carrier diffusion in a polycrystalline semiconductor using time-resolved x-ray scattering" (with S. Lee et al).  Applied Physics Letters 113, 032107. (2018).

E. Landahl. "Direct Measurements of Multi-photon Induced Nonlinear Lattice Dynamics in Semiconductors via Time-resolved X-ray Scattering" (with G. J. Wilson, M. Watson et al).  Scientific Reports 6.  Article 39506. (2016).

E. Landahl. "Picosecond x-ray strain rosette reveals direct laser excitation of coherent transverse acoustic phonons" (with S. Lee et al). Scientific Reports 6, 19140. (2016).

E. Landahl. "X-ray characterization of a multichannel smart-pixel array detector" (with M. Tarpley et al). Journal of Synchrotron Radiation 23, 196-205. (2016).

E. Landahl. "Pushing x-ray photon correlation spectroscopy beyond the continuous frame rate limit" (with E. Dufresne et al). Optics Express 24, 355-364. (2016).

E. Landahl. "Demonstration of a time-resolved x-ray scattering instrument utilizing the full-repetition rate of x-ray pulses at the Pohang Light Source" (with S. Lee et al). Review of Scientific Instruments 87, 035107. (2016).

E. Landahl . "A simple cross-correlation technique between infared and hard x-ray pulses" (with B. Kraessig et al). Applied Physics Letters. 94: 171113. (2009).

E. Landahl. "Mechanism of cooperative behavior in systems of slow and fast molecular motors." Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics. 11: 4890. (2009).

E. Landahl. "Unfolding acoustic phonons: Coherent high-wavevector modes from a superlattice observed in bulk with time-resolved X-ray diffraction" (with M. Trigo et al). Physical Review Letters 101, 025505. (2008).

J. Pando. "Detection of protein Secondary Structures a the Discreet Wavelet Transform" (with S. Shaheen & L. Sands). Physical Review E. 80, 051909. (2009).

A. P. Sarma. "Detection of the Zeeman Effect in the 36 GHz Class I CH3OH Maser Line with EVLA" (with E. Momjian). Astrophysical Journal. 705. (2009): L176-L17. (2009).

A. P. Sarma, T. Troland, J. Romney & T. Huynh. "VLBA Observations of the Zeeman effect in H2o masers in OH43.8-0.01," Astrophysical Journal, vol. 674, 295-303. (2008).

A. P. Sarma. "Very Large Array H I Zeeman Observations of NGC 1275 (Perseus A)" (with R. Crutcher et al). Astronomical Journal 130, 2566. (2005).

A. P. Sarma. "The Kinematics, Physical Condition and Magnetic Field of the W3 IRS 5 region" (with H. Imai). Astrophysics and Space Science 295, 71. (2005).

A. P. Sarma, Momjian, E. "The Zeeman Effect in the 44 GHz Class I Methanol (CH3OH) Maser Line Toward DR21W". Astrophysical Journal, Volume 872. 12-20. (2019).