The main areas of physics research at UCSC are the study of fundamental particles and interactions (high-energy physics), the study of condensed matter physics, and astrophysics/cosmology.

Condensed Matter Theory

Work on theoretical condensed matter physics is a major area activity of the Physics Department and involves a broad range of topics. These include the study of phase transitions with an emphasis on numerical simulations, disordered systems, a variety of problems in non-equilibrium statistical mechanics, biophysics. Also studied are  quantum integrable systems,  strongly correlated electronic  systems and  high temperature superconductivity. There is also a new program applying numerical methods from statistical physics to study quantum computers. There are collaborations with experimentalists both at UCSC and elsewhere. The research program involves four faculty members (Josh Deutsch, Onuttom Narayan, Sriram Shastry, Sergey Syzranov) as well as postdocs and graduate students.

Condensed Matter Experiment

The experimental condensed matter group has a wide variety of current interests in the physics of crystalline solids with novel ground states and excitations.  Among the current topics of study are  low-dimensional and frustrated magnets, novel superconductors, high-k dielectrics, multiferroic materials, high temperature superconductors, topological insulators, transition metal cobalt oxides, graphene, negative thermal expansion materials , thermoelectric clathrates and skutterudites, suphides, Jahn-Teller materials, field effect transistors, photovoltaics in crystalline organic semiconductors, memristors in insulating oxides, and nanoparticle oxides.  Facilities both on campus and at national laboratories include the experimental techniques of x-ray absorption and magnetic circular dichroism spectroscopy, neutron and x-ray diffraction, ARPES, core level spectroscopy, specific heat, magnetometry, optical spectroscopy and optical reflectance. Additionally, UCSC is home to the Materials Advancement Portal (MAP), a unique website that allows users to share information and form new collaborations with materials researchers from all over the world

High Energy Theory

Theoretical particle physics is a major area of activity in the Physics Department and in the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics.  Much of the program is devoted to particle physics beyond the Standard Model, including supersymmetry model building and dynamics, axion physics, string theory and quantum gravity. Several lines of research pertain to theoretical particle physics relevant for the phenomenology of high energy colliders. There is also a major effort in the physics and cosmology of the very early universe, focused on dark matter, inflation and baryogenesis. This research program involves three faculty members (Michael Dine, Howard Haber, Stefano Profumo) as well as postdocs and graduate students.

High Energy Experiment

SCIPP faculty, research staff, students, engineers, and technicians play major roles in experiments at the frontier accelerator laboratories in the world, including CERN (the European Organization for Nuclear Research), as well as in a variety of experiments that do not involve terrestrial accelerators, to answer the most important questions in particle physics and high energy astrophysics.  These efforts usually include ground-breaking work on the technologies needed to advance this research, so SCIPP is recognized as a world leader in the development of custom readout electronics and silicon micro-strip sensors for state-of-the-art particle detection systems.  Always creating new opportunities, SCIPP personnel are also pursuing the application of these technologies to other scientific fields such as neurophysiology and biomedicine.
Current SCIPP projects include

  • the ATLAS experiment at CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC)[
  •  the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope [
  •  the Dark Energy Survey (DES)[
  • the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST)[
  • the Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS)[]
  • HAWC[
  • future linear collider development
  • Proton Computed Tomography [  )
  • NeuroProject [

The Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP)

Research in high-energy particle physics and astrophysics is done in the setting of an organized research unit, the Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics (SCIPP []).  With approximately two dozen faculty from Physics, Astronomy & Astrophysics, and SCIPP appointments, plus post-docs, research staff, students, visitors, and administrative staff, SCIPP is home to vibrant and evolving research in experimental and theoretical particle physics and particle astrophysics.  An especially exciting aspect of work in SCIPP is the productive interaction among the different research groups, including the close connections between theoretical and experimental work, on topics such as searches for the Higgs boson, supersymmetry, the nature of dark matter, tests of fundamental physics, and a wide variety of high-energy phenomena on the ground, in the atmosphere, and in space.

Astrophysics And Cosmology Theory

The Physics Department hosts a lively research program in Theoretical Astrophysics and Cosmology. The research interests of the group, consisting primarily of faculty members Aguirre and Profumo, as well as of postdocs and students, include: cosmological inflation and eternal inflation, heavy-element enrichment of the intergalactic medium (Aguirre), and models for the baryon asymmetry in the universe, particle dark matter model building and searches, cosmic-rays and high-energy astrophysics (Profumo). The presence of a strong astrophysics group in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Department in the same building, the Physics Department High-Energy Astrophysics experimental group, and the TASC (Theoretical Astrophysical in Santa Cruz) institute provide healthy symbioses and opportunities in this area.

Astrophysics And Cosmology Experiment

This research area includes Professors David Smith, David Williams, and Tesla Jeltema as well as the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope group.

The Smith group study high-energy radiation and the electromagnetic and plasma processes that generate it in several contexts.  These include the astrophysical (accreting neutron stars and black holes), solar (flares) and terrestrial (thunderstorms and Earth's radiation belts).  They seek connections among these fields in terms of observational techniques, existing sources of data, and similar physical processes.  They work on instrumentation and data from spacecraft, balloons, and aircraft, as well as simulations that support the interpretation of these data.

Professor Jeltema conducts research in the areas of observational cosmology, high energy astrophysics, and particle astrophysics, including constraints on the nature of dark matter and dark energy and studies of the evolution of galaxies.  A particular emphasis of her work are studies of the formation and evolution of large-scale structure in the universe using observations covering a broad wavelength range and numerical simulations.


Our brain is a highly sophisticated system that receives information about the outside world, processes it, and determines our reaction to it. These functions are realized through billions of individual neurons that are connected in vast and complicated circuits and use electrical signals to communicate with each other. We use unique large scale multielectrode recording systems developed by a collaboration of physicists, engineers, and biologists to study function, development and treatment of neural circuits. The focus is mainly on visual system and the retina. One example is investigation of processes leading to "wiring up" of the complex retinal circuitry during development. Another, is development of photovoltaic retinal prosthesis capable of restoring vision to people with photoreceptor-degenerative diseases like Retinitis Pigmentosa and Macular Degeneration.

This area of study is led by Alexander (Sasha) Sher and Alan Litke.