Physics research at UQ is tackling fundamental questions that have puzzled humanity for centuries. At a practical level, physics embraces the study of basic natural laws and explains how and why things work on scales ranging from the cosmos to the tiniest sub-atomic level.

UQ Physics hosts an outstanding group of researchers exploring quantum science, laser science, condensed matter physics and astrophysics. UQ leads the prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, is a node of ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology, and co-hosts the Centre for Hypersonics and the Centre for Organic Photonics and Electronics, both renowned internationally.

Research achievements have been acknowledged through awards and accolades including: two Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science; two Fellows of the American Optical Society; one Fellow of the International Society of Optics and Photonics; five past ARC Federation Fellowships; and numerous Australian Professorial Fellows and Future Fellows.

UQ Physics actively collaborates with an extensive network of international and national institutions, both industrial and academic. Notable partnerships include:

  • USA, UK and Europe: The Australian Dark Energy Survey (OzDES) in collaboration with more than 120 scientists from 23 institutions in the United States, Spain, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Germany
  •  Europe: Max-Planck Forschungsgruppe Erlangen, Germany; Universities of Innsbruck and of Vienna, Austria; Institut d’Optique and the University of Paris, France; Chalmers University of Technology, Göteborg Sweden
  • South America: Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Australia: Queensland Organic Solar Cell Consortium; the Australian Solar Institute (ASI).

Collaborative research occurs at:

  • Faculty of Science
  • Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Queensland Brain Institute
  • Faculty of Engineering, Architecture and Information Technology

UQ has particular expertise in the areas of:

  • Astronomical and space sciences
  • Condensed matter physics
  • Optical physics
  • Quantum physics 

Physics in brief

  • More than 55 full-time equivalent researchers, with collaborators in fields including Mathematics and Statistics, Chemical Sciences and Materials Engineering, and Nanotechnology and Bioengineering
  • More than 60 PhD and MPhil students in 2014
  • More than 860 publications since 2008
  • More than $39.5 million in research funding since 2008
  • Astronomical and space sciences research rated at the highest level – well above world standard – in the 2012 Excellence in Research for Australia exercise. Condensed matter, optical and quantum physics research rated above world standard (the highest rating awarded nationally for condensed matter physics)

Highlights of UQ Physics

Astronomical and space sciences discover our origins 

Research in astrophysics at UQ focuses on origins: how the universe itself formed, and how galaxies form within the universe.

UQ co-leads the Australian Dark Energy Survey (OzDES), which is doing the first deep time-lapse spectroscopic survey of the sky reaching more than half-way across the observable universe in ten narrow regions. The aim is to test explanations of why the expansion of the universe seems to be speeding up, contrary to our expectation that gravity should slow it down. By repeatedly observing the same patches of sky for five years we are building up a detailed dynamic view for the first time. We will analyse more than 3,000 supernovae to test whether dark energy changes with time (just 52 supernovae were enough to complete the Nobel Prize winning discovery of dark energy). We will also monitor hundreds of active galaxies, whose varying brightness allows us to weigh the supermassive black holes at their hearts and see how supermassive black hole mass has grown over the last 12 billion years.

On smaller scales, UQ uses advanced supercomputers to model the formation and behaviour of star clusters in galaxies. This work recently helped discover the first massive black hole in a very small galaxy. This discovery has major implications for our understanding of how black holes affect the formation of stars in galaxies. 

Condensed matter physics answers the big questions 

The Condensed Matter Physics (CMP) group at UQ is one of the most expansive and innovative working in this challenging space. It operates at the boundary between physics, chemistry and biology, and addresses key questions in specific systems such as organic superconductors and biological macromolecules.

A particularly exciting, and relatively new development has been the use of quantum techniques and other condensed matter approaches to address key questions in biology. Examples include photo-protection in melanin, quantum in coherence in photosynthetic arrays, and tunneling in enzymes.

A key component of UQ’s Condensed Matter Physics is the Centre for Organic Photonics and Electronics (COPE), which enables close collaboration with colleagues in Chemistry on the theory, design and fabrication of organic electronic materials and devices with particular emphasis on applications such as organic solar cells and organic LEDs. The solar energy program is well integrated with broader energy research across UQ, nationally and internationally. The COPE next generation solar cell work will play a central role in the upcoming Australian Solar Institute Strategic Research Initiative in photovoltaic technologies. 

Optical and laser physics delivering new technologies 

The Laser Imaging group develops advanced imaging techniques for use in fluid flows ranging from microscopic scales through to high-speed flows. As part of the Centre for Hypersonics, researchers have developed non-intrusive measurement techniques applied to testing model scramjet engines (in preparation for large-scale flight tests) and re-entry vehicles (in collaboration with NASA and ESA). The group is also developing an improved resolution microscopy system based on non-linear techniques.

Biophotonics is the application of light and laser-based tools and techniques to biological systems, covering fundamental science, biological sensing and imaging. The application of light and laser methods enables breakthrough discoveries in biology, health and clinical sciences, and has an important role to play in meeting the grand challenges in the life sciences. The Centre for Biophotonics and Laser Science creates a critical mass of researchers who can apply strong fundamental physics skills to physics and biology problems over a range of scales from single molecule interactions, through to molecules and cells, to tissues and organs. 

UQ quantum physics leading the second quantum revolution 

Quantum and photon science and technology has been a recognised UQ research strength for more than a two decades. Research groups include both theoretical and experimental groups in degenerate quantum gases, quantum optics and quantum information, and quantum nano- and opto-mechanical systems.

The first quantum revolution of the 1950s led to many technologies that have become ubiquitous in society in the 21st century, including consumer electronics, computing, sensing, medical imaging and GPS technology. Physics at UQ is an international leader of the second quantum revolution, based on the understanding, control, and engineering of quantum many-body systems. UQ has a number of ARC research fellows, and many well-funded research groups in theoretical and experimental quantum science. In addition to leading the ARC Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems, UQ hosts a node of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology.