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The SFU Department of Physics offers a wide range of research activities and programs leading to MSc and PhD degrees. The Physics department has a strong international reputation for its research and a research environment that is welcoming and collaborative. Currently the department is the home for 26 research professors who supervise approximately 65 graduate students and 10 postdoctoral fellows.
Established in 1965, SFU Physics has one of the oldest and most comprehensive biophysics and condensed matter programs in Canada. Since then, the department has expanded its world class reputation into a number of forefront research areas. We invite you to explore the research of the various groups in the sections below.
SFU Physics Areas of Research
QI/AMO is a subfield of Physics that involves the study of atoms, molecules, electrons, and light, and their various interactions. Historically it encompassed the experiments and ideas that underpin quantum mechanics, and led to the development of the laser and the standardization of time. Today it pushes the limits of knowledge on many fronts including the study of atoms at ultra-low temperatures, many-body effects, quantum degeneracy, and precision measurements of fundamental interactions. The superior controllability of AMO systems also makes them the forefront platforms to realize quantum information processors, which represent and manipulate information as quantum states. Quantum information and related technologies can offer dramatic performance improvement over current devices based on classical physics in countless applications including computing, sensing, and communications. This is expected to spark the next technological revolution.
SFU Physics has research programs and research opportunities in both AMO and Quantum Information, with programs ranging from studying fundamental physics of interacting atoms to developing silicon technologies and algorithms for quantum information processing. Paul Haljan’s research focuses on quantum state manipulation of trapped ions and technology development for trapped ion quantum computing. Jeff McGuirk’s research is more generally concerned with the study of quantum degeneracy and quantum dynamics in systems of ultra-cold trapped atoms. Stephanie Simmons is building quantum technologies using silicon, a material that arguably hosts the best quantum bits (‘qubits’) in the industry. Kero Lau theoretically studies the properties of engineered quantum systems (e.g. trapped ions, photonics, optomechanics) and explores their applications in quantum information processing. Complementary research programs can be found in the group led by Malcolm Kennett (many-body physics with ultra-cold atoms). Adjunct AMO faculty include Jens Lassen (TRIUMF; laser ion source spectroscopy) and Mohammad Amin (DWave; quantum computation)
We have a strong, broad program in biological and soft matter physics, one of the first to be offered in Canada, with a mix of researchers at various stages of their careers. We host weekly seminars, ranging from local speakers from various departments to international experts to journal club talks. Our graduate students co-organize a popular annual regional workshop (Frontiers of Biophysics) jointly with UBC. All of this activity helps create an unusually interactive group of researchers. Areas of particular expertise include molecular motors, single-molecule biophysics, nonequilibrium and information thermodynamics, systems biology, ion-conducting polymers, lipid and related systems, and development of new biophysics techniques. There are strong overlaps with statistical physics and materials physics, and many links to neighbouring departments (Chemistry, MBB, Biological Sciences, and Math).
Condensed Matter Physics
This interdisciplinary field touches on many aspects of physics and has strong overlap with chemistry and engineering science. Physicists have always been at the forefront of the study of new materials and this has led both to a fundamental understanding of their properties as well as revolutionary applications. Examples of materials studied at SFU include novel superconductors, graphene, semiconductor and magnetic nanostructures, topological quantum materials, as well as soft materials (see Soft Matter Physics area). Materials research in the physics department includes studies in fundamental theory, as well as strong efforts in the growth of new materials in addition to the development of novel methods for device fabrication and analysis of electrical, structural and optical properties. Materials researchers make heavy use of interdisciplinary facilities including TRIUMF and the SFU 4D LABS, as well as a wide range of specialized tools.
Particle Physics / Cosmology
The SFU experimental High Energy Physics group plays a leading role in the CERN-based ATLAS collaboration which discovered the long-sought Higgs boson in 2012 — the most significant discovery in particle physics in almost 40 years. We continue to study and learn more about the properties of the Higgs boson, search for signs of new Physics using so-called Long-Lived Particles, and make instrumental contributions in preparing the detector for these results (e.g. energy calibration, particle track and vertex reconstruction algorithms). The SFU group has also led major computing projects, in particular the ATLAS-Canada Tier-1 Data Centre, helping to develop the international computing grid to analyze the huge amount of data produced by ATLAS. The SFU gorup is also a major player in Canada for building components for the ATLAS New Inner Tracking Detector (ITk) - with production sites at SFU and TRIUMF - to maintain and enhance the discovery potential of the experiment during the scheduled High-Luminosity LHC. We also have an active experimental high-energy neutrino program related to the Pacific Ocean Neutrino Experiment, a new initiative to construct one of the world’s largest neutrino detectors in the deep Pacific Ocean off the coast of British Columbia.
Theoretical cosmology and astroparticle research at SFU concerns a broad range of topics including black holes, inflation, dark energy, modified gravity, topological defects, primordial magnetic fields, dark matter candidates and neutrinos, with the focus on phenomenology and developing methods and numerical tools for testing new theoretical ideas against data from astronomical surveys, gravitational wave observatories and particle detectors. SFU faculty are members of international collaborations working on cosmic microwave background experiments, namely, the Planck satellite team, the Simons Observatory and CMB-S4. Theoretical and numerical tools for cosmological tests of gravity developed at SFU are used by large-scale galaxy surveys collaborations, such as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Dark Energy Survey, Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument and others.
Theoretical Physics research at SFU is concerned with gaining insight into the properties of matter from sub-atomic length scales to the scale of the universe itself, and with understanding the properties of novel materials and biological systems. Theorists at SFU collaborate with other theorists, and with experimentalists at SFU, within Canada and internationally, to understand and explain their data and make predictions for future experiments. These efforts encompass all of the research areas of the department: Quantum Information, Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics, Condensed Matter Physics, Cosmology, and Biophysics. The groups use a wide range of techniques, including quantum field theory, statistical mechanics and extensive numerical simulations using high performance computing.