Graduate Program

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


Atomic, Molecular, Optical

AMO is a subfield of Physics that involves the study of atoms, simple molecules, electrons, and light, and their various interactions. Historically it encompasses the experiments and ideas that underpin quantum mechanics and that led to the development of the laser. Today it pushes the limits of knowledge on many fronts including the study of atoms at ultralow temperatures, quantum degeneracy and quantum information, and precision measurements of fundamental interactions.

SFU has research programs and research opportunities in AMO, with a particular concentration on trapped atom and trapped ion physics. Paul Haljan’s research focuses on trapped atomic ions, and the use of lasers to manipulate their internal states for applications in quantum simulation and computing.  Mike Hayden’s research involves highly polarized atomic systems, blending new approaches to magnetic resonance imaging with precision measurements of fundamental quantities and studies of trapped antihydrogen and ultra-cold neutrons.  Jeff McGuirk’s research is more generally concerned with the study of quantum degeneracy in systems of ultra-cold trapped atoms, as well as atom-based precision measurements.  Kero Lau theoretically studies the applications of trapped ion, atom, and optomechanical systems in quantum information processing.

Complementary research programs can be found in groups led by Malcolm Kennett (many-body physics with ultra-cold atoms), Stephanie Simmons (silicon quantum technology), and Mike Thewalt (silicon-based quantum information). Adjunct AMO faculty include Jens Lassen (TRIUMF; laser ion source spectroscopy) and  Mohammad Amin (DWave; quantum computation).

Biophysics / Soft Matter

The SFU Physics Department has a strong, broad program in biological and soft matter physics. Our program is one of the oldest and perhaps best developed 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 studies of lipid and related systems, ion-conducting polymers, molecular motors, single-molecule biophysics, protein mechanics, systems biology, and development of new biophysics techniques. There are strong overlaps with statistical physics and materials physics, and many links to neighbouring departments (Chemistry, Biology, MBB, and Engineering).

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 nanostructures, as well as soft materials (see Soft Matter Physics area).  Materials research in the physics department includes both fundamental theory studies, as well as strong efforts in the growth and characterization of new materials or novel methods for fabrication and analyzing their electrical, structural  and optical properties. Materials researchers make heavy use of the interdisciplinary materials fabrication facilities at 4D LABS, which includes a wide range of tools for the formation of new materials, as well as their fabrication into devices, and a suite of electron microscopy probes to assess structural and electrical properties.

Particle Physics / Cosmology

SFU Physics has active research programs in High Energy Physics (HEP) and Cosmology with undergraduate and graduate research opportunities in both.

The members of the experimental High Energy Physics group at SFU (O'Neil, Stelzer, Vetterli) are playing leading roles in the CERN-based ATLAS collaboration which has recently announced the discovery of the long-sought Higgs boson — the most significant discovery in particle physics in almost 40 years. As well as leading analysis efforts for some of the important Higgs “observation channels”, and some searches for exotic new physics, the SFU group has been instrumental in preparing the detector for these results (e.g. energy calibration, identification algorithms, data quality monitoring). 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 Cosmology group (Frolov, Pogosian) combines theoretical research with active involvement in testing theory against existing observational data and developing new tests for future experiments. Pogosian's work concerns a broad range of topics including dark energy, modified gravity, topological defects and cosmological magnetic fields, with the focus on new ways of testing them against observations of cosmic microwave background and large scale structure. Theoretical and numerical tools developed by his group are actively used by ESA's Planck satellite science team and in planning of ESA's upcoming Euclid space telescope. Frolov studies black holes and gravitational collapse in both conventional and modified theories of gravity. He has work extensively on inflationary cosmology and methods for searching for non-Gaussian properties in the cosmic microwave background, and is a member of the Planck team.


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: Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (Malcolm Kennett, Kero Lau), Condensed Matter Physics (Igor Herbut, Malcolm Kennett, and George Kirczenow), Cosmology (Andrei Frolov, Levon Pogosian, and Andrew DeBenedictis), and Biophysics / Soft Matter (Eldon Emberly and David Sivak). The groups use a wide range of techniques, including quantum field theory, statistical mechanics and extensive numerical simulations using high performance computing. There are research opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellows.