The JFI is home to researchers from the Departments of Chemistry, Physics, Geophysical Sciences, Statistics, and Computer Science. By their very nature, interdisciplinary research topics grow and reconfigure organically around developing scientific questions. Here are snapshots of the areas of research in which the JFI is currently investigating.

Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics

JFI researchers connect ideas in condensed matter physics, precision measurement, and quantum information to trapping atoms and photons, quantum state manipulation, and control techniques. Experimental work in this area includes the exploration of quantum criticality and magnetism of ultracold atoms trapped in optical lattices and then probed with high-resolution microscopy, the study of topological quantum materials through techniques in cavity quantum electrodynamics, and the study of the effects of electrons on superfluid helium that are coupled to superconducting microwave resonators. Experimentalists work closely with theorists to investigate the pseudo-gap in superconductivity, properties of anyons and other exotic quasi-particles, and new methods of exploring vorticity and knottedness in superfluids.

Faculty: Chin, Guyot-Sionnest, Levin, Littlewood, Mazziotti, Simon


The JFI unites researchers who are pursuing collaborative experimental and theoretical studies of biological systems with the goal of discovering new principles of complex matter. Spectroscopy and single-molecule imaging yield detailed molecular information that, together with simulation and statistical mechanical theory, sheds light on the function of cellular assemblies. Living systems harness energy for growth, reproduction, movement, and directed changes in state. Studies of such active matter contribute to a broader effort in the Institute to understand nonequilibrium phenomena.

Faculty: Biron, Dinner, Engel, Gardel, Lee, Murugan, Scherer, Tian, Tokmakoff, Vaikuntanathan, Voth, Weare
Emeritus: Berry, Freed, Witten

Fluids and Granular Materials

In the areas of fluids and granular materials, close collaboration among experimentalists and theorists focuses on the complex behavior of systems both near and far from equilibrium, whether driven by external forces or trapped in metastable glassy states. The development of new concepts, such as the jamming phase transition and universal behavior near singularities, is a key aspect of our work and leads to deeper understanding and better control of phenomena across a wide range of size scales, from microscopic to truly macroscopic.

Faculty: Dupont, Irvine, Jaeger, Nagel, Vaikuntanathan, Zhang
Emeritus: Rice, Witten

Nanomaterials Synthesis and Characterization

JFI researchers create nanostructured materials with novel chemical and physical properties using a variety of methods, including chemical synthesis, self-assembly, and thin-film growth. Characterization and structural control of nanomaterials is provided by specialized equipment that is available in both individual faculty laboratories and shared facilities. The JFI has the capabilities for X-ray photoemission and diffraction, SEM, TEM, cryogenic scanning probe STM/AFM, optical tweezing, nanolithography, and ultrafast infrared/visible/UV pump-probe spectroscopy. While our focus is on the fundamental science of nanomaterials, potential applications of the research include light harvesting, thermoelectric generation, electronic transport, catalysis, materials passivation, plasmonics, biological interfaces, photo-luminescence, and water purification.

Faculty: Engel, Guyot-Sionnest, Jaeger, Park, Scherer, Sibener, Talapin, Tian
Emeritus: Berry

Nonequilibrium Phenomena

Most naturally occurring systems are out of equilibrium. Materials like glasses relax slowly compared with measurement time scales. Others, such as living systems, take in energy in an ongoing fashion. Understanding the statistics of such systems is a grand challenge. JFI researchers are combining theory and experiments to study nonequilibrium phenomena such as transport and active self-organization in diverse systems that range from atomic to global scales.

Faculty: Biron, Chin, Dinner, Engel, Gardel, Jaeger, Levin, Mazenko, Morr, Murugan, Nagel, Scherer, Schuster, Son, Vaikuntanathan, Wiegmann
Emeritus: Witten


The JFI explores various ways that macromolecules transmit and direct forces and information amongst their many atomic constituents. Researchers have identified new forms of patterning and self-organization of assemblies, and are studying the mechanisms driving the folding of individual macromolecules. JFI researchers also design, synthesize, and characterize electron transport and coherent excitation in polymers.

Faculty: Engel, Gardel, Sibener, Yu
Emeritus: Freed, Witten

Quantum Condensed Matter

Quantum (or “hard”) condensed matter physics explores the exotic behaviors that emerge when many quantum-mechanical particles interact with one another. Exciting theoretical questions range from the origins of high-temperature superconductivity to properties of topological quantum materials and beyond. While many experimental efforts aim to validate these theoretical models, condensed matter techniques have applications across quantum science, from device development and information processing to quantum simulation.

Faculty: Chin, Guyot-Sionnest, Isaacs, Kang, Levin, Levin, Littlewood, Mazziotti, Park, Schuster, Simon, Son, Wiegmann

Soft Condensed Matter

The JFI is at the forefront of soft condensed matter research, with collaborative experimental and theoretial efforts focusing on active materials, biophysical assemblies, fluids, granular materials, and polymers. In addition to investigating each of these areas in depth, JFI researchers seek cross-cutting principles that govern the organization of this class of matter.

Faculty: Dinner, Gardel, Irvine, Jaeger, Lee, Murugan, Nagel, Park, Schuster, Sibener, Talapin, Tokmakoff, Vaikuntanathan, Voth, Weare, Zhang
Emeritus: Mazenko, Rice, Witten

Spectroscopy and Chemical Dynamics

The JFI’s research in spectroscopy and chemical dynamics reveals the microscopic properties of molecules, fluids, interfaces, and nanoscale materials. Ultrafast optical pulses, atomic scale imaging, molecular dynamics simulations, and scattering are used to interrogate interactions between the constituent particles of these systems (electrons, atoms, chemical bonds, molecules, and lattices) to gain insight into the origins of their functional properties and complex behaviors. These techniques are not only passive observers of microscopic behavior, but also seek to drive and control molecular scale interactions far from equilibrium.

Faculty: Butler, Engel, Guyot-Sionnest, Levy, Park, Scherer, Sibener, Tokmakoff, Voth
Emeritus: Rice

Statistical Physics

A central goal of the JFI is quantitatively describing how the structure and dynamics of complex systems emerge from their constituent elements. Because such systems often involve randomness, either in their preparation or their microscopic transitions between states, probability theory and statistics are a natural language. JFI researchers are applying these mathematical tools to understanding scaling, phase transitions, and hydrodynamics theoretically, as well as for designing and analyzing efficient simulation algorithms.

Faculty: Dinner, Mazenko, Murugan, Nagel, Vaikuntanathan, Voth, Weare
Emeritus: Berry, Rice, Witten

Topological and Geometrical Aspects of Matter

The study of topological and geometrical aspects of matter is an emerging and rapidly developing area of condensed matter physics. The JFI has a large research effort in this direction, including both theoretical and experimental work on the quantum Hall effect, topological quantum materials, and topological mechanical systems. Among other topics, researchers are actively exploring fractional statistics, topological boundary modes, particle-hole symmetry in the lowest Landau level, and the physics of many-body systems in curved space.

Faculty: Irvine, Kang, Levin, Simon, Son, Wiegmann