The Department of Physics and Astronomy uses cutting-edge equipment both on and off campus to understand matter from the largest to the smallest scales.
On the largest scales, the department makes extensive use of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Very Long Baseline Array for studies of quasars. These energetic objects are the most distant visible objects in the universe, at distances of billions of light years. The Very Long Baseline Array consists of an array of ten radio telescopes stretching from the Virgin Islands to Hawaii, observing at frequencies from 300 MHz to 86 GHz. The department maintains a fully equipped undergraduate research lab with four dedicated Linux workstations for the analysis of data from this array.
For studies of matter on the smallest scales, the department has a research-grade atomic force microscope (AFM). The AFM is a very compact, high-resolution microscope that affords real-time atomic and molecular resolution imaging. But, it would be a mistake to consider the AFM as just a very powerful microscope. It also allows one to perform mechanical, electrical, magnetic, and chemical measurements at the nanoscale, which is essential on the road to the realization of nanotechnology. The AFM also enables one to fabricate specific nanoscale structures by manipulating atoms and molecules. This latter point makes the AFM a quintessential device in accelerating the pace of the already-started nanotechnology revolution.
The department also has a combination of a high-power UV pulsed laser and a dye laser that is used in fluorescence studies. In addition, a research-grade lock-in amplifier was purchased recently. The lock-in will be used together with the AFM to perform challenging tasks, such as detecting the charge distribution below a semiconductor surface or a protein.