Research in Physics at HMC

Each student is encouraged to do individual experimental or theoretical research in an area of his/her special interest in conjunction with a faculty member. The department has a rigorous student-faculty research program in a wide variety of fields in experimental and theoretical physics. Current student-faculty research areas include: observational astronomy, astrophysics, biophysics, geophysics, laser and atomic physics, quantum theory, solid state physics, and string theory.

  • The optical coherence microscope (OCM) enables researchers to study biological systems as they grow, because it can see through highly scattering (milky) media such as a frog embryo (collaboration with Prof. Scott Fraser, Caltech) or an artificial cornea as it is growing (collaboration with Prof. Liz Orwin). The group is now using GPUs to cut image acquisition time by a factor of 100, making possible real-time three-dimensional imaging with sub-10-micrometer resolution.

  • Spintronics: Profs. Eckert, Sparks, and Chen study magnetic multilayer structures using over $1 million of equipment that includes two PPMS (physical property measurement systems) and a sputtering system (to create samples). Collaborators include alum Matt Carey at Hitachi Labs (formerly IBM Almaden), Eric Fullerton at UC San Diego, as well as faculty at the University of Minnesota and staff scientists at NIST/Gaithersburg.

    Stephanie Moyerman won HMC’s third Apker Award in 2006; Prof. Eckert’s research program was recognized by the American Physical Society in 2008.

  • Laser-driven fusion: Prof. Donnelly collaborates with Prof. Todd Ditmire of UT Austin on a droplet-fusion project, in which tiny liquid droplets of heavy water are blasted by extremely intense femtosecond laser pulses. If high enough temperatures can be achieved in the sub-micron droplets, it is possible that deuterium nuclei can fuse, just as they do in the sun. The challenges include producing droplets with just the right size by an ultrasonic atomization technique.

  • Statistical mechanics you can actually see: Prof. Gerbode studies micron-sized colloidal particles suspended in water between closely spaced glass plates, observing crystal formation, defect propagation, and phase transitions in mesoscopic systems.

  • String theory with Prof. Sahakian: HMC is one of the few colleges where students have the opportunity to conduct original research in string theory, and to publish their results in leading journals.

  • Geophysics: Prof. Lyzenga studies the crustal deformations in the Los Angeles region following the 1993 Northridge earthquake using the GPS system of satellites, and other techniques, and many observation posts scattered throughout the region. By making very precise measurements of the position of the markers at these posts over many years, he and his students track ground movements. Prof. Lyzenga also conducts computer simulations of tectonic processes and studies the motions of asteroids.

  • Birth of stars: Prof. Esin studies the birth of stars, using both an observational and a computational approach. Astrophysics students use the 1-meter telescope at Table Mountain Observatory, near Wrightwood (about an hour away, behind Mt. Baldy). This facility is shared between HMC, Pomona, and JPL.

  • Quantum optics and quantum information: Prof. Lynn studies quantum information and communication through the avenue of hyperentangled photon pairs, which are pairs of photons with correlations in more than a single degree of freedom (both polarization and orbital angular momentum).

  • Enhancing optical absorption in thin-film solar cells: Prof. Saeta explores the interaction between metal particles and photovoltaic multilayer structures to persuade incident light to propagate over long distances parallel to the surface.