Grad student with laser

Optics is an applied physics area with applications in industry, scientific instrumentation, medicine, astronomy, and future technologies such as quantum computing. The University of Iowa is the home of the Optical Science and Technology Center (OSTC), which is an interdisciplinary center for optics researchers in physics, chemistry, engineering, and other fields. The Department of Physics and Astronomy has experimenters who develop and test new optical devices and materials, as well as experimenters in the fields of plasma, atomic, and molecular physics, who develop scientific instruments based on lasers and optics. Our experimenters have fifteen labs on campus, and we have a theorist. We offer graduate-level courses in modern optics.

Image gallery


We have greatly increased the number of optics faculty and state-of-the-art laboratories in our department. Students interested in optics enjoy a wide range of research possibilities, within the OSTC and with other faculty in the Department as well. With their strong financial support from numerous funding agencies, our faculty members offer students excellent research opportunities. Job placement opportunities are particularly strong for PhD graduates with experience in any of the kinds of optics that our students use.


David R. Andersen

Nonlinear optics; quantum electronics; solid state; embedded systems.

  • Parametric solitons, nonlinear optical crossbar switch, passive and adaptive nonlinear optical equalizer, 4-pi confocal nonlinear optical microscopy
  • Applications include long-haul telecommunications systems, embedded wireless communications
  • Professor with appointments in the departments of Electrical and Computer Engineering and in Physics and Astronomy
  • Facilities include 1100 sq. ft. lab, with a 100 femtosec Ti:Sapphire laser system and other sources for nonlinear optics
  • Students also interact with theoretical wireless group from Electrical Engineering, medical group from Optical Science and Technology Center
Thomas F. Boggess

Nonlinear optics; ultrafast spectroscopy of semiconductor heterostructures.

  • Ultrafast nonlinear optical techniques used to study semiconductor nanostructures
  • Topics of interest include carrier energy and spin relaxation, recombination, and transport
  • Facilities include ultrafast lasers, cryogenic capabilities, photon-counting equipment, and magneto-optical instrumentation located in 2000 sq ft of laboratory space
Michael E. Flatté

Condensed-matter theory; materials theory.

  • Coherent properties of spin systems in the solid state
  • Carrier dynamics in semiconductor optoelectronic materials and devices
  • Member of National Science Foundation Materials Research Science and Engineering Center "Center for Emergent Materials" at Ohio State University
  • Students also interact with other group members, including postdocs and other students, and with members of experimental groups at Iowa, as well as many other institutions worldwide
  • Students develop skills including analytical and numerical techniques and programming C++
  • Placement opportunities for graduate students include industry and national lab partners in our research
John A. Goree

Experimental plasma physics; statistical physics; soft condensed matter physics.

  • Dusty plasma, strongly-coupled plasma, optical diagnostics of plasmas, waves
  • Physics problems are interdisciplinary, combining condensed matter, statistical physics, and plasma physics; experiments involve direct comparisons to theory
  • Experiments are performed in our labs. Data from experiments on the International Space Station (ISS) are also analyzed
  • Two labs with plasma chambers and optical diagnostics
  • Students also interact with group members including a research scientist; other faculty and research scientists; collaborators in other countries
  • Students develop skills including design, construction, and operation of: vacuum, electronic, optical, and laser systems; programming in various languages; image analysis
John P. Prineas

Experimental semiconductor physics; growth and fabrication; spectroscopy; microscopy; semiconductor nanostructures; optoelectronics and photonics; III-V MBE growth; nonlinear optics.

  • Research and development of antimonide III-V compound semiconductor materials, including Ga(Al)InAsSb bulk alloys and quantum wells, InAs/Ga(In)Sb superlattices, and core-shell nanowires
  • Facilities include a molecular beam epitaxy lab equipped to grow III-V semiconductors, and an optical spectroscopy lab; regular use of user facilities: Microfabrication Laboratory and the Central Microscopy Research Facility
  • Placement opportunities include industry, government labs, and academia
Frederick N. Skiff

Laser spectroscopy; plasma physics.

  • Experimental topics include experiments for plasma waves and instabilities, plasma self-organization and sheaths, and laser-induced fluorescence and wave-absorption diagnostics of plasmas
  • Student projects are typically experimental with a significant interaction with theory
  • Theoretical topics include plasma kinetic theory including waves and nonlinear fluctuations
  • There are two labs at Iowa, including: a 3-meter linear magnetized-plasma device and a large multi-dipole discharge.  Both are equipped with single-frequency scanning lasers for high-resolution laser spectroscopy.  Some students also participate in collaborations on the Large Plasma Device located at UCLA
  • Beyond interactions with group members, students participate in the plasma seminar and interact with Departmental theoretical and experimental plasma, space physics, and astronomy faculty
  • Students develop skills including data analysis, high-resolution laser spectroscopy, designing and building apparatus, electronics, computation
  • Previous assistants have found employment in academia, national laboratories, and in industry
Markus Wohlgenannt

Experimental polymer physics.

  • Magnetotransport and spin-dependent effects in organic semiconductors
  • Organic light-emitting diodes and solar cells
  • Thin film solar cells based on hybrid perovskites
  • Light absorption, reflection and emission, continuous wave photo-induced (nonlinear) absorption
  • Facilities include a spectroscopy facility using a cw laser; glove-box and clean-room for fabrication or organic light-emitting diodes and solar cells, magnetoresistance measurement setup.