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From the tiniest atom to the farthest galaxy

Research in the Department of Physics and Astronomy unravels the universe’s secrets while forming a cornerstone of West Virginia University’s robust research profile.

At the vanguard of scientific progress, some of our actively researched topics include:

  • Conducting a census of the Galactic and extragalactic populations of astrophysical transient sources via high time resolution surveys of the night sky. ASTRONOMY | Lorimer
  • Timing an array of cosmic clocks called millisecond pulsars with the world’s largest radio telescopes to characterize pairs of extremely massive black holes at the cores of galaxies. ASTRONOMY | McLaughlin
  • Exploring celestial gravitational waves from the largest black holes in the Universe using radio light and pulsar timing arraysASTRONOMY | Burke-Spolaor
  • Determining how massive stars affect the structure and evolution of our Galaxy through their ionizing radiation and eventual supernovae. ASTRONOMY | Anderson
  • Studying how compact binary systems composed of black holes, neutron stars, or white dwarfs evolve due to gravitational-wave emission, using the tools of numerical and analytical relativity. ASTRONOMY | McWilliams
  • Investigating factors influencing student success in physics classes and STEM student retention. PHYSICS EDUCATION RESEARCH | J. Stewart
  • The Holcomb group has expertise in materials characterization, from understanding a new kind of magnetism they discovered to assisting NASA in optimizing superconductor devices. CONDENSED MATTER PHYSICS | Holcomb
  • Investigating the quantum optical behavior of artificial atoms and nanofabricated semiconductor photonic devices. CONDENSED MATTER PHYSICS | Flagg
  • Ultrafast light-matter interactions of solids and their devices for applications in solar energy, quantum technology, and nanophotonics. CONDENSED MATTER PHYSICS | Bristow
  • Experimental plasma physics research that includes studies of thermonuclear fusion plasmas, space plasmas, industrial plasmas, plasma propulsion and the development of advanced optical diagnostics for all these plasma systems. PLASMA | Scime
  • Understanding how the solar wind interaction with unmagnetized bodies in our solar system affects ionospheric structure and dynamics at those bodies. PLASMA | Fowler
  • Modeling trapped radiation environment near-Earth for space physics and space weather applications. PLASMA | Tu

 

Research Areas

Driven by a passion for exploration, the Department of Physics and Astronomy at West Virginia University conducts impactful research across six research areas:

Astronomy and Astrophysics

The research performed by this group focuses on gravitational waves, pulsars, black holes, fast radio bursts, star formation, galaxy evolution and formation, theoretical astrophysics, and the contents and dynamics of our own Milky Way Galaxy.

: Astronomy and Astrophysics

Biophysics

Our current research focuses on the area of neurophysics, studying the nervous system and developing novel neurotechnology to better understand the brain, and to improve brain health.

: Biophysics

Condensed Matter Physics

The condensed matter theorists at West Virginia work to provide a better understanding of materials, their interfaces and interactions, and to lay the foundation for applications based on the discovery of new physics.

: Condensed Matter Physics

Optical and Laser Physics

Researchers in this area use light as a probe to learn about the microscopic electromagnetic behavior of novel materials and the thermodynamics of plasma.

: Optical and Laser Physics

Physics Education Research

In this group, members investigate the functioning of physics courses at WVU, what elements in those courses are most effective, and how to make those courses more inclusive.

: Physics Education Research

Plasma and Space Physics

The plasma research program has concentrated on basic problems of plasma behavior that are relevant to the understanding of processes that occur naturally in space plasmas and in magnetically confined fusion plasmas.

: Plasma and Space Physics

Centers and Partnerships

Our mission is to prepare students for employment in physics-related areas including physics teaching certification and/or for the pursuit of advanced degrees in physics, astronomy, or related fields by educating our majors in fundamental disciplinary concepts and relevant skills including problem solving and laboratory techniques.

Young female explores STEM center activity

CENTER FOR EXCELLENCE IN STEM EDUCATION (CE-STEM)

Dedicated to enhancing STEM education in West Virginia, the CE-STEM is launching accessible, cutting-edge programs, forging key partnerships and offering networking opportunities for West Virginia K-12 youth, higher ed students and current educators. 

Housed in the WVU Office of the Provost, the Center is also among one of the five areas of research focus.

Visit the CE-STEM Website
GWAC researchers collaborate around a computer in the Greenbank Observatory

CENTER FOR GRAVITATIONAL WAVES AND COSMOLOGY (GWAC)

GWAC researchers use electromagnetic and gravitational wave observatories to understand the most fundamental processes responsible for galaxy formation and evolution as well as our universe's physical laws. 

Members of the Center are from across the Departments of Physics and Astronomy, Mathematics, Computer Science, and Electrical Engineering.

Visit the GWAC Website
Male wearing blue short sleeve shirt works on room size piece of physics machinery

CENTER FOR KINETIC PLASMA RESEARCH (KINETIC)

KINETIC collaboratively solves cutting-edge kinetic-scale physics problems in magnetized plasmas using disparate and complementary approaches.

Our researchers drive the Center as a world-class scientific research enterprise, focusing on cutting edge research, effective public outreach and educational initiatives supporting the next generation of researchers across the world.

Visit the KINETIC website

Facilities

The Department of Physics and Astronomy is in White Hall on the Downtown Campus of WVU. The building, specifically designed to serve as the department’s home, boasts state-of-the-art research facilities, including:

In the News

Research Highlights

Written in the stars: WVU astrophysicists set to receive Shaw Prize, the ‘Nobel of the East’

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For Lorimer and McLaughlin, working at Arecibo set off a sequence of events including marriage, children, joining West Virginia University, an out-of-this-world scientific discovery and, now, a prestigious award described as the “Nobel Prize of the East.”

Read More: Written in the stars: WVU astrophysicists set to receive Shaw Prize, the ‘Nobel of the East’

WVU faculty, students contribute to cosmic breakthrough uncovering evidence of low-frequency gravitational waves

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More than two dozen researchers with ties to the West Virginia University Department of Physics and Astronomy have helped unearth evidence of ripples in space time that have never been observed before.

Read More: WVU faculty, students contribute to cosmic breakthrough uncovering evidence of low-frequency gravitational waves

WVU physicists give the first law of thermodynamics a makeover

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West Virginia University physicists have made a breakthrough on an age-old limitation of the first law of thermodynamics.

Read More: WVU physicists give the first law of thermodynamics a makeover