Physics & Astronomy
Head of Department: Prof Jon Butterworth
UCL Physics & Astronomy is concerned with the study of the physical properties of the Universe, from the smallest to the largest scales. Covering a broad range of disciplines, academic staff are divided into four research groups: Atomic, Molecular, Optical and Positron Physics (AMOPP); Astrophysics; High-Energy Physics (HEP); and Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (CMMP). The department is a major user of international research facilities including CERN and international observatories like the European Southern Observatory.
The Atomic, Molecular, Optical and Positron Physics Group explores a range of connected areas of physics, including both experimental and theoretical research programs.
Topics include: positron, positronium and electron collisions; ultracold gases, ultrafast laser spectroscopy and strong laser interactions; biological physics and optical tweezers; theoretical physics of molecules and quantum systems; and quantum information.
These fields have a range of applications in research and industry. For instance, optical tweezers – manipulation of microscopic objects using a highly-focused laser beam – have considerable potential in the life sciences.
The Astrophysics Group at UCL studies the Universe from its formation to the present day, at relatively small scales (stars and planets) to the largest structures in the Universe. The group is a major participant in the Dark Energy Survey, a project which aims to follow up on the remarkable discovery that won the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, the fact that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating. DES is mapping 300 million galaxies over one eighth of the sky, looking for clues to explain and characterise this expansion, through a range of different tools such as the way that gravity bends beams of light on large scales.
It also participates in the Centre for Planetary Sciences (along with the Mullard Space Science Laboratory and the Earth Sciences departments at both UCL and Birkbeck).
BioP Research group
The BioP group at the Department of Physics and Astronomy focuses on solving key intellectual and practical problems in the physics of biological systems and the underlying properties of soft matter, from intramolecular to cellular length scales, using experimental, computational and theoretical methods.
The High Energy Physics group is UCL’s contribution to the understanding of the smallest scales of matter: subatomic particles and the fundamental laws of physics.
Members of the group have been highly active in recent breakthroughs in the area, in particular the discovery of a Higgs boson at CERN in 2012.
As well as contributing to the Higgs boson discovery, Prof Jon Butterworth (head of department and member of the HEP group) wrote about the hunt for the Higgs in a series of Guardian articles, helping bring to life an otherwise highly esoteric field of science.
The Condensed Matter and Materials Physics Group is concerned with researching the fundamental properties of the material world. This ranges from highly theoretical work to the applied study of matter.
Research within the group spans a wide spectrum of subjects including quantum computing, organic electronics, superconductivity, the physics of the Earth’s deep interior, biomagnetism and nanoscale imaging.
With 26 academic staff and over 50 PhD students, it is one of the largest condensed matter physics groups in the UK.