At USU Physics we believe that research is an integral part of the student experience and growth as young scientists. Undergraduates, graduate students, and students from a variety of majors participate every year with our research groups and our outreach activities to local schools, the Cache Valley community, and people throughout the state of Utah.

Physics is the most basic of all the sciences. It strives to describe the most fundamental processes, in the simplest terms, making the fewest assumptions. Despite its pursuit of the fundamental, physics is also extraordinarily useful. The ideas of physics underlie all of the other sciences and engineering, and they form the foundation upon which a large portion of the world’s economy is built.

Our Physics Research program at USU can be broadly broken down into 7 major sub-fields with active research efforts. Our research groups have both theoretical and experimental activities, with the majority of our laboratories being housed in the SER Building on the USU-Logan campus. If you are interested in participating with us in any of our activities or you'd like to visit the facilities, please contact us.

Research Mentors

Atmospheric & Space Science

The Physics Department is active in the field of Atmospheric and Space Science, in close association with the interdisciplinary Center for Atmospheric and Space Sciences (CASS) and the Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL). We also have active collaborations with other groups in the US and around the world.

Atmospheric and space sciences involve many areas of physics, in addition to such disciplines as engineering, chemistry, statistics, and meteorology. At USU, these groups enjoy a strong cooperative relationship and, as a result, the atmospheric and space sciences program has flourished for many years. Space sciences brochure.

Selecting Courses

Once the departmental requirements have been met, students may select courses from the offerings of the associated departments suited for their particular interests and needs while they gain research experience on challenging problems in atmospheric and space sciences.

Available Opportunities

Opportunities are available for students in both experimental and theoretical modeling projects.

The former include participation in instrument development and data analysis related to rocket and satellite projects and related to incoherent-scatter and coherent radars, lidars, optical instruments, and magnetometers. Many of the ground-based observations occur at CASS’s Atmospheric Lidar Observatory, Rayleigh-Scatter Lidar, Sodium Lidar, and Atmospheric Imaging Lab.

The latter projects involve theoretical modeling of physical processes occurring in the mesosphere, thermosphere, and the near-earth plasma environment.


Bela Fejer, Ludger Scherliess, Jan Sojka, Mike Taylor, Titus Yuan

Complexity and Nonlinear Dynamics

Complexity science is the study of how surprisingly sophisticated behavior appears at a system level due to the simple interactions of the system’s elementary pieces. Examples range from pattern formation in physical systems to social and economic activity in human populations. Research at USU deals, in part, with understanding information processing in multicellular organisms—with applications to improved climate modeling and error mitigation in state-of-the-art computer chips. Complexity brochure

Nonlinear dynamics, a subset of complexity science, is the study of deterministic systems that exhibit complex and apparently unpredictable behaviors, such as the inherent long-range unpredictability of weather patterns.  Examples of nonlinear dynamics research at USU include studies of hysteretic transitions in dipole clusters, periodicity and chaos in magnet interactions, inertial motion on the earth's spheroidal surface, and separations techniques in microfluidic lab-on-a-chip devices

image for nonlinear dynamics


Boyd Edwards, David Peak

Field Theory, Gravity, High Energy Theory

  • General Relativity and Gravitation
  • Foundations of classical and quantum field theory
  • Conformal and scale invariant gravity theories
  • Unified field theories
  • Black holes and relativistic astrophysics
  • Supergravity
  • String theory and Holography
  • Geometrical and computer algebra methods in mathematical physics.


Maria Rodriguez, Charles Torre, Oscar Varela, Jim Wheeler

Plasma Physics

The Plasma Theory and Computation Group at Utah State University works on improving hybrid fluid/kinetic models of fusion plasmas in support of next-step fusion experiments such as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Plasma physics brochure.


Eric Held, Jeong-Young Ji

Quantum Devices

The rapid advance of technology has made quantum physics an indispensable foundation of the nanoscale devices. The Physics Department is positioned to explore this new field with two complementary research themes.

The first theme is to study the growth of novel electronic/photonic materials involving group III-V elements using a commercial, state-of-the-art molecular beam epitaxy machine. Novel semiconductor quantum nanostructures can be studied using an in-situ scanning tunneling microscope.

The second theme is to use the most advanced surface science techniques to fabricate nanoscale silicon-based electronic devices. Patterning is conducted through electron-beam lithography and photolithography. Quantum effects in such devices can be revealed in cryogenic transport studies.

The interdisciplinary nature of this field provides a stimulating research environment for faculty and students with backgrounds in physics, electrical engineering, material sciences, and chemistry.

Student working on quantum device


TC Shen

Surface Physics

The surface and nanotechnology program is an experimental program with interests in the physics and materials properties of surfaces, interfaces, and adsorbed films.

Dr. Dennison and the USU Materials Physics Group (MPG) has more than 30 years experience studying materials properties and how exposure to extreme environments affects these properties. MPG measures electron-, ion- and photon-induced electron emission; electron-, ion- and UV/VUV radiation-induced changes of bulk conductivity and radiation induced conductivity; permittivity, electrostatic field strength, and radiation-induced arcing; and optical transmission, emissivity, and cathodoluminescence. They have developed and used numerous radiation sources, sensors, and shielding in their research. Their work also includes more than a decade of study on the effects of radiation on materials and spacecraft components.

Nanotechnology and surface physics are closely related; as the size of materials and devices get smaller, both surface and quantum mechanical effects become more important. The critical length scale for their onset is about 100 nm.

A wide range of semiconductor nanostructures and thin films are grown and characterized by the researchers in the USU Surface Physics Program, including elemental semiconductors (Si and Ge) and compound semiconductors (III-V), highly insulating materials, and metals on various substrates. Their structure, growth, dynamics, electronic properties, and optical properties are studied with a wide array of techniques using electron, ion, and photon spectroscopies.

The majority of the experiments and fabrication are done in labs at USU that contain numerous specialized ultrahigh-vacuum surface-analysis chambers and molecular beam epitaxy and chemical vapor deposition growth facilities. Surface physics brochure.

Students working in lab


JR Dennison, TC Shen, Mark Riffe