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The School of Physical Sciences brings together and consolidates the University's broad-ranging and cutting-edge research in the fundamental disciplines of Chemistry, Earth Sciences and Physics.

Research world firsts from the School are capturing international attention in the world's best research journals. These breakthroughs, which have the potential to change our lives, are attracting extensive external funding and creating new opportunities for international collaboration.

School Research Projects

The School has several research projects that are well respected throughout the world. Information about current Research projects within the School of Physical Sciences are listed below.


  • Energy and Environment

    Researchers in this area undertake fundamental research into the key areas of energy usage, storage and demand, and environmental chemistry. Affiliations to the Centres for Energy Technology and Advanced Nanomaterials facilitate these projects.  Aspects of this research are funded by DSTO, Adelaide Airport (through CET) and a multi-institutional $6M Science Industry & Endowment Fund grant.

    Examples of projects include:

    • Application of carbon dioxide as a primary reagent for the formation of useful organic molecules
    • Gas separation with framework materials
    • Theory and simulation of solar energy conversion
    • Nanocatalysis
    • CO2 conversion in framework materials
    • Determination of heavy metal contaminants in tissue samples
    • Materials for nutrient control
    • Risk assessment development for environmental pollution

    For further information contact: Prof Andrew Abell, Emeritus Prof Michael Bruce, Prof Christian Doonan, Prof Hugh Harris, A/Prof David Huang, Emeritus Prof Stephen Lincoln, Prof Greg Metha, Prof Chris Sumby, Dr Kenji Sumida, Dr Witold Bloch, Dr Cameron Shearer

  • Functional Materials

    Research in this theme is focussed on the design and construction of new materials, including molecules, molecular assemblies and solid-state materials, which can be utilised in the generation of new functional materials, such as polymers, proteins, peptides, catalysts, molecular devices, sensors, and probes. New materials synthesis and characterisation facilities, including high field NMR capability, the Bragg Crystallography Facility and glass fabrication facilities enable this, and other research in Chemistry. Aspects of this work are affiliated to the Centre for Advanced Nanomaterials and IPAS.

    Examples of projects include:

    • General approaches to protein ligand design
    • New peptide based therapies and biological probes
    • Simulation and ultrafast spectroscopy of organic semiconductor nanostructures
    • Helicates as biological probes
    • Applications of cyclodextrins to the design of molecular devices and smart materials
    • Porous materials for battery technology
    • Applications of covalent organic frameworks
    • Materials characterisation by X-ray diffraction methods
    • Biomimetic self-assembly of nanostructured materials
    • Complexes with carbon chains as models for molecular wires
    • Nanoparticle enriched optical glasses
    • Surface modification of proteins for sensor applications

    For further information contact: Prof Andrew Abell, A/Prof Stephen Bell, Emeritus Prof Michael Bruce, Prof Christian Doonan, Prof Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem, A/Prof David Huang, A/Prof Tak Kee, Emeritus Prof Richard Keene, Emeritus Prof Stephen Lincoln, Prof Simon Pyke, Prof Chris Sumby, Dr Kenji Sumida, Dr Witold Bloch, Dr Cameron Shearer

  • Medicinal and Biological Chemistry

    Researchers in this area investigate the chemistry of proteins and peptides, to answer important biological questions relating to the causation and prevention of diseases. Further work in this area focuses on drug design and development, including the identification and synthesis of novel small molecules to block or activate cellular targets. State-of-the-art peptide synthesis and purification capabilities complement this research.  Research in this area is undertaken in conjunction with local companies and start-ups, including Bionomics and Calpain Therapeutics.

    Examples of projects include:

    • Enzyme mimics and molecular reactors
    • Structural determination of proteins using mass spectrometry and NMR
    • Structure-based drug design
    • Synthesis of natural products
    • Structure, function and mechanistic studies of proteins and enzymes
    • Protein engineering for biocatalysis with applications in chemical synthesis and bioremediation
    • Metals and metalloids in diseases and their treatment
    • The selective toxicity of metal complexes to drug-resistant pathogens

    For further information contact: Prof Andrew Abell, A/Prof Stephen Bell, Emeritus Prof John Bowie, A/Prof Jonathan George, Prof Hugh HarrisEmeritus Prof Richard Keene, Emeritus Prof Stephen Lincoln, A/Prof Tara Pukala, Prof Simon Pyke, Dr Christopher Newton

  • Molecular Photoscience and Ion Chemistry

    Researchers in this area investigate the application of light and mass spectrometry as central chemical research tools to gain insight into the chemical and physical properties of molecules. Computational chemistry using state-of-the-art high performance computers underpins these experimental studies.  The School also has its own extensive mass spectrometry facilities and this is complemented by access to facilities in the Adelaide Proteomics Centre.

    Examples of projects include:

    • Interstellar chemistry
    • Application of mass spectrometry to the sequence determination of bioactive peptides
    • Ultrafast spectroscopy of naturally occurring pigments
    • Investigation into gas phase metallic and bi-metallic clusters
    • Spectroscopic and computational studies of atmospheric radical chemistry

    For further information contact: Emeritus Prof John Bowie, Prof Hugh Harris, A/Prof Tak Kee, Prof Greg Metha, A/Prof Tara Pukala

Earth Sciences

  • Earth Sciences

    The G&G group undertakes research into our planet, investigating the earth, from its surface, through its crust and to its deep mantle using outcropping rocks, boreholes and geophysical remote sensing. From cataclysmic earthquakes and volcanic eruptions to imperceptibly slow surface weathering, we investigate the processes that have shaped our planet, its resources endowment and its environment throughout its 4.5 billion year history.

    G&G has a mineral resources focus and very strong links with the South Australian minerals and petroleum industry. Our postgraduates and staff have an international network of research links and an outstanding record of achievement witnessed by publications, prestigious conference presentations, prizes and extensive funding from government agencies such as the ARC (Australian Research Council) and the Department of State Development.

    Dr Lee Arnold Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating
    Professor Karin Barovich Crustal Evolution of the Earth as Reflected by Geochemistry and Radiogenic Isotopes 
    Professor David Chittleborough Evolution of Soils, Biogeochemistry of Soils in Watersheds, Chemistry and Fate of Nanoparticulates 
    Professor Alan Collins Tectonics, Structural Geology and Geochronology 
    Dr Juraj Farkas Isotope Geochemistry and Earth System Evolution, Applications of Non-traditional Isotopes
    Professor John Foden Arc Magmatism and Crustal Growth, Petrology, Geochemistry, Isotope Geochemistry and Tectonics 
    Dr Stijn Glorie Thermochronology, Intracontinental Deformation and Tectonics 
    Professor Martin Hand Metamorphic Geology, Tectonics and Geothermal Resources 
    Dr Derrick Hasterok Thermal and Magnetotelluric Investigations of the Lithosphere 
    Professor Graham Heinson Electrical Geophysics and Magnetotellurics for Crustal and Groundwater Studies 
    Dr David Kelsey Metamorphic Geology,Tectonics and Geochronology
    A/Prof Rosalind King Structural Geology, Tectonics and Petroleum Geology 
    Dr Richard Lilly Mineral Systems
    Dr Cesca McInerney Organic and Isotope Geochemistry in Palaeoclimatology and Palaeoecology
    Prof M Santosh Tectonics, Metamorphism, Geochemistry and Mineral Deposits
    Prof Sandy Steacy Earthquake Sciences
    Dr Jonathan Tyler Past Climate Change, Isotope Geochemistry and Aquatic Biogeochemistry

    Visit the Earth Sciences research website for more information about research laboratories.

    Aspects of this work are affiliated to the Institute for Mineral & Energy Resources (IMER).


  • Space and Atmospheric Physics

    The Atmospheric Physics group is interested in all aspects of the physics of the atmosphere (and ionosphere) from the ground up to altitudes near 100 km. It develops and exploits new radar, passive and active optical techniques and GPS and other satellite techniques for remote sensing of the atmosphere.  Examples of research projects include:

    • Meteoroid fragmentation with radio holography
    • GPS measurements for ground and space
    • Radar investigation of the turbulence and radio-wave scatters in the lower atmosphere
    • LIDAR and passive optical studies of the atmosphere.
    • Radar imaging and radar interferometry of the atmosphere.
    • Measurement for climate and meteorological numerical models.

    For further information contact Prof Iain Reid, E/Prof Robert Vincent, A/Prof Andrew MacKinnon, A/Prof Murray Hamilton.

  • Environmental Luminescence

    Research focuses on the application of luminescence to sensing, particularly the measurement of ionising radiation dose and trace substance detection. The Optical Dating method enables our use of natural and artificial materials as radiation. Key facilities enable dosimetric, imaging, spectral and kinetic analysis. We operate in partnership with the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO).

    Examples of research projects include:

    • Post-radiological event dose reconstruction using concrete, salt, glass etc
    • Photoluminescence detection of trace quantities of explosives
    • Radiation sensing optical fibres
    • Optical Dating applications in Archaeology & Earth Sciences

    For futher information contact Adjunct Prof Nigel Spooner.

  • High Energy Particle Physics

    Through the new ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale (CoEPP), this group will be involved in the latest search for new physics at the CERN Large Hadron Collider. This includes the search for the Higgs particle, dark matter, supersymmetry, extra dimensions and quite generally new physical laws.

    • Search for new Laws of Nature governing matter not seen since a billionth of a second after the Big Bang.
    • Experimental participation in the ATLAS experiment.
    • Theoretical investigations into super-symmetry and the search for dark matter
    • Collider phenomenology and data analysis

    For futher information contact Prof Anthony Thomas, Prof Anthony Williams, A/Prof Ross Young, Prof Derek Leinweber, A/Prof Paul Jackson, Dr Waseem Kamleh, Dr Hrayr Matevosyan, Dr Martin White.

    Click here to view the research groups web page: ARC Centre of Excellence for Particle Physics at the Terascale CoEPP.

  • High Energy Astrophysics

    The High Energy Astrophysics group studies the most extreme processes in astrophysics through observations of highly energetic cosmic rays, X-rays, gamma-rays and neutrinos, and associated theoretical investigations. Radio and optical observations are also undertaken to support the high-energy studies. Members of the group are leading players in several of the world's most important particle-astrophysics experiments. Highlights of the activities include:

    • Extreme energy particle astrophysics with the Pierre Auger Observatory
    • TeV gamma-ray observations with H.E.S.S.
    • Astrophysical neutrinos searches with the IceCube detector at the South Pole
    • Using the Moon as a giant neutrino detector with LUNASKA
    • Millimetre radio observations with Mopra and Nantem to study dense gas in energetic environments
    • Theory of acceleration and propagation of energetic particles in the Universe

    For further information contact: E/Prof Roger Clay, Prof Bruce DawsonA/Prof Gavin Rowell, A/Prof Gary Hill.

  • Medical Physics

    This Medical Physics program operates in collaboration with Medical Physicists in several Adelaide hospitals, giving students the opportunity for applied clinical learning. The main areas of research include:

    • Modelling of radiation effects on biological systems
    • Development of novel solid state radiation dosimeters
    • Treatment optimization in particle therapy Image reconstruction
    • Monte Carlo modelling of radiation beams and techniques

    For further information contact Dr Alex Santos and Dr Scott Penfold

  • Optics and Photonics

    Research in the Optics and Photonics group encompasses all aspects of photonics including the development of optical fibres, lasers and their applications. It includes collaborations with exciting international projects to develop gravitational astronomy (LIGO, VIRGO and TAMA), for next-generation optical telescopes (Gemini) and remote sensing (BoM, WA DoE). The group also has world-leading facilities for the development and fabrication of new optical fibres, lasers and nove sensors, including facilities to produce soft and silica glass fibres.

    • LIDAR development (including laser sources) for water vapour detection, upper atmosphere temperature profiling and pollution transport studies
    • The development of novel fibres for high power lasers, mid-infrared fibre lasers, single photon sources and extreme non-linear effects.
    • The development of advanced optical fibres for advanced sensing including the detection of viruses and water quality
    • Surface functionalisation of glass and fibre devices (in conjunction with Chemistry)

    For further informtion contact: E/Prof Jesper Munch, Professor Andre Luiten, Professor Heike Ebendorff-Heidepriem, Associate Professor Murray Hamilton, Associate Professor Peter Veitch,
    Prof David Ottaway, Dr Alexandre FrancoisDr Yinlan Ruan, Dr Philip Light

    Click here to view research groups web page: ARC Centre of Excellence for Nanoscale BioPhotonics, Optics and Photonics and IPAS.

  • Theoretical Physics

    This group is internationally renowned for their research exploring the fundamental quantum field theories of the Standard Model of the Universe.  As home of the Centre for the Subatomic Structure of Matter (CSSM), significant advances have been made in unveiling the nature of Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD), the theory describing the interactions between quarks and gluons as they compose particles such as the proton. The group's work supports nuclear and particle physics facilities around the world, revealing the most fundamental aspects of nature and exploring the extreme conditions of the early universe.

    • Lattice QCD, numerical simulations on parallel supercomputers
    • Quark confinement, symmetry breaking and mass generation
    • The astrophysics of neutron stars
    • The observable effects of changes in fundamental constants with time
    • Tests of QED in muonic hydrogen
    • Deep-inelastic scattering as a probe of hadron structure
    • Advanced visualizations of lattice-QCD data sets
    • Chiral effective field theory
    • Axion phenomenology and photon production in intense fields
    • Finite-dimensional quantum affine algebras and their applications

    For further information contact: Prof Derek LeinweberProf Anthony Thomas, Prof Anthony Williams, A/Prof Max Lohe, Dr Rod Crewther, Dr Waseem Kamleh, A/Prof Ross Young, Dr James Zanotti.

    Click here to view research groups web page: The Special Research Centre for the Subatomic Structure of Matter CSSM.

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School of Physical Sciences

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