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Physics student presents at Villanova undergraduate research conference

Ongoing Research 

Villanova Physics faculty are actively engaged in research on a wide variety of topics—ranging from measurements of quantum-mechanical properties of magnetic materials to characterization of the Cosmic Microwave Background, relic radiation from the Big Bang. Broadly, most physics research at Villanova can be divided into two major fields: Condensed Matter Physics and Astrophysics.

Condensed Matter Physics

Condensed matter physics is the study of the properties of matter, including superconductivity, magnetism, thermal transport and spintronics. It is one of the largest fields in modern physics, with applications in chemistry, biology and nanotechnology.


Astrophysics is the study of physical processes as they occur in space, including gravity, atomic and chemical interactions, the formation of planets, stars, and galaxies, and the large-scale evolution of the universe.


Jeremy Carlo, PhD, studies the physics of magnetism in matter. While magnetism, which arises from interactions between unpaired electrons, has been known since ancient times, many mysteries still remain. In particular, he is interested in materials in which magnetic ordering is more spatially complex than in simple cases of ferromagnetism (as occurs in metallic iron and related materials). His research focuses on geometric magnetic frustration, in which the arrangement of magnetic ions inhibits the development of magnetic order. Frustration gives rise to a rich variety of magnetic states, and provides a window into exotic physics inaccessible in more conventional materials.

His research involves both work on campus, and experiments performed at national laboratories. He has set up a synthesis laboratory on campus, which includes an x-ray diffractometer to characterize crystalline structure, and frequently travel to large facilities including Oak Ridge National Laboratory and TRIUMF to perform definitive characterization using neutron and muon beam radiation. Over the past five years Dr. Carlo has had eight undergraduate research students, who have participated in sample synthesis as well as experiments at national laboratories, and they have presented their results at regional and national American Physical Society meetings. He is always happy to welcome new students into his group, where they will experience research using a diverse set of techniques, and the opportunity to perform research at national laboratories in collaboration with colleagues from the US and Canada.

Contact Dr. Carlo

David Chuss is a professor of Physics

David Chuss, PhD, works on the development and use of new instruments to study the universe in polarized light at long wavelengths. He is currently involved in two such instruments. The first is the Cosmology Large Angular Scale Surveyor (CLASS), which is an array of telescopes located in the Atacama Desert in Chile. CLASS measures the polarization of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), which is the afterglow of the Big Bang, in search of evidence that the universe underwent a rapid exponential expansion called inflation in the first fraction of a second. His lab has developed hardware to support the development of CLASS, and undergraduate students have played a key role in these efforts.

Dr. Chuss’s group at Villanova also is part of a team that just delivered a new instrument for NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). SOFIA is an airborne observatory that consists of a 1.5-meter telescope mounted inside a modified Boeing 747 aircraft. Because the observatory operates at altitudes around 45,000 feet, SOFIA is able to observe at far-infrared wavelengths of light that get mostly absorbed by the atmosphere. The new instrument, HAWC+ polarimeter, is used to study the role of magnetic fields in star formation in our Milky Way Galaxy. The instrument is currently obtaining new data that are an order of magnitude beyond the former state of the art.

Students have worked on projects with Dr. Chuss ranging from data analysis to development and production of hardware. Students have also conducted research in the field both on SOFIA flights and in the Atacama desert.

Learn more about Dr. Chuss and his research

Contact Dr. Chuss

Dr. Dietrich is a Physics faculty member.

Scott Dietrich, PhD, studies fundamental electron-electron interactions in atomically thin materials. These materials offer a unique playground to explore new physical phenomena and may also form the basis of the next-generation of electronic components. The 2D Materials Lab studies how charges move around in these materials. Many people consider electricity as flowing like water in a pipe. This is an extremely fruitful analogy for most conductors, but it breaks down when charges in a material interact strongly. When this happens charges can behave collectively, and the result is often greater than the sum of its parts – more is different. Exciting new electronic properties result when charges interact strongly: they can crystallize, superconduct, coalesce, or more.

Dr. Dietrich’s research group uses a variety of experimental techniques to observe and understand these novel electronic phases. Stacks of 2D materials are assembled and characterized in Dr. Dietrich laboratory at Villanova then fabricated into measurable devices at the Singh Center for Nanofabrication at the University of Pennsylvania. Room temperature resistivity measurements are performed at Villanova. Then samples are studied at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory with microwave techniques at high magnetic fields and low temperatures. Dr. Dietrich is always looking for curious undergraduates who would like to get a hands-on experience in experimental condensed matter physics.

Learn more about the 2D Materials Lab.

Contact Dr. Dietrich

Joey Neilsen is a professor of Physics

Joey Neilsen, PhD studies the physics of black hole accretion. Material falling towards a black hole (“accreting” onto the black hole) can release enormous amounts of energy, and a significant fraction of this material may in fact be ejected before it reaches the event horizon. He uses NASA’s X-ray telescopes in space (including Chandra, NICER, and NuSTAR) to study the behavior of gas as it falls towards the black hole and to look for signatures of any ejected material. Dr. Neilsen is very happy to have new students in his group, and he has lots of observations of black holes for them to work on. He and Amber Stuver, PhD, share a computer research lab—the “Gravity Lab”—where students have access to fast workstations and all the software they will need. Dr. Neilsen has research collaborations around the world, and can offer research projects on stellar-mass and supermassive black holes involving theory or data, spectroscopy, variability analysis, statistical analysis and occasionally even general relativity. Dr. Neilsen works with students to get their results published in a physics or astronomy journal and may take them to regional or national conferences to present their work.

Learn more about Dr. Neilsen and his research

Contact Dr. Neilsen

Georgia Papaefthymiou-Davis, PhD, directs the Mӧssbauer Spectroscopy and High Energy Ball Milling Laboratories within the Department of Physics at Villanova University. Her expertise lies in nanoscience and nanotechnology with special emphasis on nanoscale magnetism, fundamentals, and applications to devices, biotechnology and medicine. Her research focuses on compounds related to iron: ferrites, multiferroic materials and engineered human ferritins (compounds that store and release iron). She collaborates with chemists, biologists, materials scientists and engineers within Villanova and at other national and international research centers and universities.

Dr. Papaefthymiou-Davis welcomes students to join her ongoing collaborative research efforts or to design their own research projects. In addition to Mӧssbauer spectroscopy, the students can acquire expertise in mechanochemical synthesis of nanoferrites, X-Ray powder diffraction, Transmission Electron Microscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy, Atomic Force Microscopy and specific absorption rate measurements in heat transfer processes. All necessary instrumentation is available on Campus within the College of Sciences or the School of Engineering.

Learn more about Dr. Papaefthymiou-Davis and her research

Contact Dr. Papaefthymiou-Davis

Amber Stuver is a profess of Physics

Amber Stuver, PhD, uses LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) to observe gravitational waves from some of the most violent and energetic events in the universe like colliding black holes and merging neutron stars. In order to detect gravitational waves, physicists need to be able to make length measurements smaller a thousandth the size of a proton which corresponds to a large amplitude gravitational wave when it arrives at Earth. Physicists are more than capable of doing this, but they are also constantly measuring the effects of environmental disturbances and instrumental glitches.

Dr. Stuver studies how these glitches affect our data and how to improve the quality of the data by either removing contaminated times or eliminating the source of the glitch. This involves a deep understanding of both the detector and the data analysis methods that extract gravitational wave signals from the noise.

Currently, she is working with glitches that have been classified using the citizen science and machine learning project called Gravity Spy to safely remove them from the data or to discern their origin. This utilizes existing tools developed by LIGO and new machine learning methods. Students in Dr. Stuver’s group learn how the LIGO detectors works, how to computationally manipulate real data, and use software (sometimes that they develop themselves) to study glitches that contaminate the data.

Learn more about Dr. Stuver's work with LIGO.

Contact Dr. Stuver


Recent Student projects

The department prioritizes meaningful research opportunities for students, inviting them to work alongside reknonwed faculty. For reference, here are a number of current and former undergraduate students who have recently gotten involved in Villanova Physics research.

Student Advisor Year Project

Sarah Choate '19 

Dr. Stuver


Reapplication of SLOPE gravitational wave search to seek glitches in LIGO auxiliary channels

Matt Caesar '20

Dr. Stuver


Development of the Cumulative Sums of Squares to find statistical change points in LIGO auxiliary channels

Ray Dean '20

Dr. Stuver


Applying Gravity Spy glitch classifications as vetoes and studying the effect on the burst data analysis background

Nicholas LaManna '20

Dr. Stuver


Visualization and characterization of Gravity Spy glitch classes in search of meaningful patterns

Elizabeth Johnson ‘18

Dr. Neilsen


Relativistic iron lines in the black hole MAXI J1535-571 with NuSTAR

Pablo Arumburu Sanchez '20

Dr. Neilsen


Variable accretion disk winds in the black hole GRS 1915+105 with NuSTAR

Jadyn Anczarski '20

Dr. Neilsen


X-ray imaging and spectroscopy of the relativistic jet from M87

Liam Jones '18

Dr. Neilsen


Timing analysis of the black hole MAXI J1535-571 with NuSTAR

Connor Williams '19
Demetrios Papakostas '18
Jefferson Toro '18

Dr. Carlo


Synthesis of Geometrically Frustrated Magnetic Materials

Joe Michail '19

Dr. Chuss


An Improved Far-Infrared SED for the OMC-1 Star Forming Region

David Stilwell '19
David Greene '19

Dr. Chuss


Development of an Ultra-Black Calibrator for Future CMB Space Missions

Leah Berman '19

Dr. Chuss


Design and Fabrication of Thermal Sources for CMB Detector Validation

Rahul Thapa '21

Dr. Chuss


Investigating the Magnetohydrodynamics of the OMC-1 BNKL Region

Lexi Tumblety '21

Dr. Chuss


Exploring the Relationship Between Polarization Fraction and Intensity in HAWC+/SOFIA Polarimetry Data

Vince Mutolo '19

Dr. Chuss


Electromagnetic Modeling of Microwave Absorbers

Steven Kim '19
Thomas Longo '19
Lauren Hurley '21
Kaixuan Ji '21

Dr. Davis


Engineered Human Ferritins