The Johns Hopkins Department of Physics and Astronomy research laboratories are well equipped with state-of-the-art tools. What’s more, the research of our faculty is truly global: some of us work at the Large Hadron Collider, the site of the world’s highest energy particle accelerator, at the Advanced Photon Source, the world’s brightest source of light, and with instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope, the world’s premier space observatory. Our faculty are also on the cutting edge of gravitational physics and gravitational-wave astronomy, preparing for the challenge of detecting gravitational waves in space with the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA). Closer to home, a special undergraduate laboratory sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts allows students to perform their own research under the guidance of faculty mentors. There is also a modern computer laboratory for the exclusive use of undergraduate physics majors.
Our department is strong and diverse, which gives students the opportunity to work with experts in a wide range of fields. Unlike some larger universities, most of our faculty members work with undergraduates. Studying and researching alongside people with this level of expertise and commitment to the field gives you a challenging environment in which to build your skills.
The department focuses on the following research areas:
The Center for Astrophysical Sciences (CAS) at Johns Hopkins is the home of more than 75 PhD-level astrophysicists. Using experimental, observational, numerical, and theoretical methods, the scientists in CAS lead research across the entire range of the discipline. Along with members of the nearby Space Telescope Science Institute, we form one of the largest astrophysics communities in the country.
Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
Atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) physics is the study of how small numbers of atoms (or molecules) interact with one another and with the electromagnetic field. By using optical forces, a cloud of room-temperature atoms can be cooled to a temperature just above absolute zero. These ultracold atoms can then be used to create exceptionally accurate clocks and inertial sensors. They also have many other applications in many-body physics, entanglement-enhanced measurement, and quantum computation.
Biological physics is one of the fastest growing areas in physics. The biological physics group at Johns Hopkins is a highly interactive and collaborative community, and connects closely to campus-wide biological and biomedical research activities. The group applies approaches from physics to measure properties of molecules, cells, and organisms in order to identify key laws and general principles across diverse living systems, and to develop new theories and models inspired by the complex phenomena of life.
Condensed Matter Physics
Condensed matter physics concerns itself with systems that have a macroscopically large number of elementary parts, typically electrons, atoms, or molecules. Collective behavior of many interacting particles cannot be reduced to the properties of individual particles: rigidity is a property of a solid, not of a single atom; superconductivity cannot be understood by examining one or two electrons. In the words of Nobel laureate P. W. Anderson, more is different.
The condensed matter physics groups at Johns Hopkins maintain active experimental and theoretical research programs covering many areas of their discipline. We investigate the properties of superconductors, topological insulators, liquid crystals, magnetic and superconducting nanostructures, surfaces and interfaces, fluids, granular materials, quantum magnets, and biological cells.
Cosmology and Gravity
The Cosmology and Gravity research group is engaged in a broad range of research that explores the nature of gravity and the origin and evolution of the Universe. Theoretical research is conducted on general relativity, alternative-gravity theories, gravitational-wave physics and astrophysics, physical and early-Universe cosmology, and dark matter and dark energy. Relevant experimental/observational work includes direct searches for dark matter, measurements of the cosmic expansion history, galaxy surveys, and cosmic-microwave-background measurements.
Information and Complexity
Information is physical — it can be used to extract work from systems in equilibrium, and to characterize complex dynamics in systems far from equilibrium. The Information and Complexity group at Hopkins studies physical systems through the tools of information theory, computation, and complex systems.
This interdisciplinary research involves ideas from statistical mechanics, dynamical systems theory, quantum mechanics, and theoretical computer science. It contributes to questions such as the emergence of spacetime, discovering structure in large datasets, the organization of ecosystems and societies, and the origin and operation of life. The importance of this endeavor lies not only in bridging abstract mathematics with empirical physics but also in its potential to redefine our understanding of nature, drive next-generation technologies, and provide insights into unsolved problems in both physics and computation.
At JHU, researchers are working to understand information and complexity in a variety of contexts, including:
- Physical underpinnings of computation and information processing
- Fluctuations and non-equilibrium statistical mechanics
- The origin and evolution of complexity
- Quantum information and computation
- Applications to biology and neuroscience
- Applications to economics and social structures
The particle physics group at Johns Hopkins conducts research in both theory and experiment. We have roughly 10 faculty members, 10 postdocs, and 20 graduate students involved in this enterprise. Our experimental group conducts research at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN as part of the CMS Collaboration. Our group is involved in the Higgs analysis and in searches for new physics, particularly those involving very heavy new particles. Our theory group studies problems in formal field theory and string theory, phenomenological issues, models for new physics beyond the Standard Model, and connections between particle physics and astrophysics and cosmology.
Physics and Machine Learning
Neural nets can perform complex tasks but what and how they learn is not understood. As Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning make rapid strides, physicists at JHU in the physics and machine learning research group are working to understand these systems and incorporate them into Physics and Astronomy research. With their large numbers of neurons and connections, neural nets can be analyzed through the lens of statistical mechanics. We are working to characterize feature learning, optimization, and the scaling of ML systems using various datasets: images, text, the web, scientific measurements, etc.