Department of Applied Physics and Materials Science - Applied Physics


Research in Applied Physics is built on the foundations of quantum mechanics, statistical physics, electromagnetic theory, mechanics, and advanced mathematics. The style of Applied Physics research at Caltech is both theoretical and richly experimental. State-of-the-art facilities are housed in the Watson Laboratories and in associated laboratories across campus.

Research Areas


Computational Physics

  • Development and application of first-principles calculations of materials based on density functional theory and excited state methods (Dr. Marco Bernardi)
  • Crossover behavior in thin films from continuum to molecular dynamics simulations (Dr. Sandra M. Troian)
  • Atomistic studies of materials and processes (Dr. William Goddard III)

Gas and Fluid Mechanics

Photonics, Optics, and Quantum Electronics

  • Interdisciplinary materials and device research, spanning photonics and electronics and with applications in Si-based photonics, plasmonics, renewable energy and mechanically active thin film devices (Dr. Harry Atwater)
  • Theory and ab initio computation of light-matter interaction in materials (Dr. Marco Bernardi)
  • On chip quantum photonic devices, like quantum bits and quantum memories, and flat optics based on dielectric metasurfaces (Dr. Andrei Faraon)
  • Nanophotonics, quantum optics, and optomechanics for applications in precision measurement and quantum information science (Dr. Oskar Painter)
  • Nanostructure fabrication for opto-electronic, magneto-optic and electronic devices (Dr. Axel Scherer)
  • Quantum-limited amplifiers at microwave frequency, applications of advanced superconductors, opto-mechanical structures to interface with atomic physics, preparation of mechanical structures at quantum limits (Dr. Keith Schwab)
  • Evanescent sensing, optofluidic devices, nanoparticle trapping techniques (Dr. Sandra M. Troian)
  • Nonlinear optics in high-Q microcaviities, frequency microcombs, optical soliton physics (Dr. Kerry Vahala)
  • Quantum well semiconductor lasers, nonlinear optics and lightwave communication (Dr. Amnon Yariv)

Plasma Physics

  • Fusion, magnetospheric, solar, and astrophysical plasmas; ice dusty plasmas; fundamental plasma physics including waves, magnetic helicity, reconnection (Dr. Paul Bellan)

Solid State Devices

  • Quantum mechanics for the electronic wave functions of large molecules and crystals (Dr. William Goddard III)
  • Nanostructure fabrication for opto-electronic, magneto-optic and electronic devices (Dr. Axel Scherer)
  • Fabrication of mechanical structures coupled to superconducting circuits and devices for the study of quantum physics at large scale (Dr. Keith Schwab)
  • Ultrafast electronic processes and nanoscale devices (Dr. Kerry Vahala)
  • Semiconductor lasers and optoelectronic devices (Dr. Amnon Yariv)

Solids and Materials

  • Charge carrier dynamics in materials using first-principles calculations Ultrafast dynamics of excited electrons in materials (Dr. Marco Bernardi)
  • Highly nonlinear dynamics, phononic crystal, multiscale metamaterials, nanofabrication (Dr. Chiara Daraio)
  • Superfluid helium devices at very low temperatures (Dr. Keith Schwab)
  • Dynamic friction laws at liquid/solid interfaces, lithographic patterning of polymer nanofilms (Dr. Sandra M. Troian)