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Areas of Physics Research at UNF

Condensed Matter Physics

Condensed matter physics seeks to understand the behavior that emerges when large numbers of atoms come together to form a material. This involves connecting the physical laws that govern the interactions of microscopic particles to the macroscale properties of materials, including their electrical, thermal, magnetic, dielectric, optical, and mechanical properties. Faculty working in this area are:

Name Research Focus
Dr. Paula Mariel Coelho 2D materials studied with scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and x-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS)
Dr. Lev Gasparov​ Optical properties of materials, Raman spectroscopy​
Dr. Jason Haraldsen​ Theoretical and computational materials physics​
Dr. Nirmal Patel Thin-film gas sensors
Dr. Thomas Pekarek Magnetically-doped semiconductors​
Dr. Daniel Santavicca Nanoscale electronics and optoelectronics, superconducting thin-film devices​
Dr. Maitri Warusawithana​ Molecular beam epitaxy, complex oxides, quantum materials​
Dr. Gregory Wurtz Nano-optics, nonlinear optics, ultrafast optics, and plasmonics​


Astrophysics is a study of the cosmos, including planets, stars, galaxies, and the universe as a whole. Astrophysics involves observing everything that is found in the sky as well as trying to understand how everything within it works, how it came to be, and how it will evolve. Astrophysicists analyze data from various observatories, construct theories of celestial phenomena, and build models of different celestial phenomena. Faculty working in this area are:

Name Research Focus
Dr. John Hewitt High-energy astrophysics studies extreme astronomical objects that emit X and gamma ray light, including black holes, supernovae, and neutron stars. These objects also emit relativistic particles such as neutrinos and cosmic rays that have recently been detected on Earth. Merging these different views of our universe allows unique tests of the physics of nature's most extreme accelerators.
Dr. Chris Kelso Astroparticle physics, including dark matter, supersymmetry, the CMB, neutrino physics, and cosmic rays; research often bridges the gap between theory and experiment as it has a particularly strong focus on data analysis
Dr. Marina Kounkel Dynamical evolution of young stars across the solar neighborhood, such as examining how the structure within star forming complexes formed; binaries, including characterizing the overall multiplicity fraction, as well as using binaries to derive fundamental stellar properties
Dr. Victoria Martin Mathematical structure of black holes (as solutions to Einstein's equations) to characterize quantum gravitational effects; holographic nature of black holes and other spacetimes; new holographic dualities beyond the AdS/CFT and Kerr/CFT correspondences


Physics Education Research

Physics education research seeks to better the teaching and learning of physics by bringing together theoretical and empirical work from the fields of physics, education, sociology, psychology, and cognitive science. Faculty working in this area are:

Name Research Focus
Dr. W. Brian Lane Dr. Lane studies the integration of computational practices and activities into physics education, from high school to upper-division undergraduate courses and research experiences. This integration is known to expand students’ exploration of physics topics and develop transferable skills, with open questions remaining about best practices and comprehensive frameworks for integration. He primarily uses qualitative research methods such as interviews, open-response surveys, and task observations.
Dr. J. Caleb Speirs Dr. Speirs incorporates results from cognitive theories of reasoning, most often dual-process theories of reasoning (DPToR), into curriculum development with an aim of aligning the teaching of physics with the way the brain naturally learns best. He also investigates how alternative grading strategies can impact the cognitive and behavioral culture of a physics classroom.




Name Research Focus
Dr. L. Barry Albright Geological and paleontological field research, including studies of the magnetic properties of fossil-bearing sedimentary rocks 
Dr. Michael R. Johnson Light stable isotopes from fossils for studying changes in paleoecology and paleoenvironments