Physical Chemistry

Featured Research

Atomic Switch Network
Prof. James K. Gimzewski
Neuromorphic Atomic Switch Network
Prof. Gimzewski investigates the processing capability of human brain by fabricating neuromorphic switches.


Experimental Physical Chemistry »

Theoretical Physical Chemistry »


The Physical Chemistry groups at UCLA lead some of the strongest research efforts in the nation aimed at understanding the physics underlying chemical phenomena.

Our faculty explore a wide range of research problems in experimental, theoretical and materials chemistry. UCLA's physical chemists have a long-standing tradition of collegiality and enthusiasm for research, which has led to many collaborations between the different interdepartmental groups and fostered many joint projects, with close ties between theory and experiment.

Because of the diversity of the problems we study, the physical chemists at UCLA work closely not only with each other but also with scientists from a variety of disciplines, including organic chemists, biochemists, physicists and engineers. This plethora of collaborations, combined with the fact that the average physical chemistry group consists of six to eight students, gives UCLA physical chemistry students an unusually flexible and rich research experience characterized by close interaction with multiple faculty members.

Our Research Facility

Professor Anastassia N. Alexandrova
Professor Anastassia Alexandrova and her group work on theory and computation of materials, ranging from novel catalytic interfaces to artificial enzymes, and to small clusters in the gas phase and variety of other contexts. The group explores the last frontier of inorganic chemistry, in terms of their electronic structure and chemical bonding. They also develop new computational methods for multi-scale modeling of complex materials in realistic conditions relevant to their use in technology,
Professor Anne M. Andrews
Professor Anne Andrews's Lab seeks to understand how neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin, encode information related to anxiety, mood, and stress responsiveness. Nanoscale aptamer-field-effect transistor sensors, microelectrode voltammetry, and microdialysis methods are developed to probe neurochemical signaling at high spatial, temporal, and chemical resolution in vivo. Genetics, pharmacology, and developmental timing are used to investigate the etiology and treatment of anxiety and mood disorders and to advance personalized predictive medicine.
Professor David B. Bensimon
Professor David Bensimon has been studying the mechanical properties of single DNA molecules for the past 20 years, using those as a means to investigate its interactions with a variety of structural proteins and molecular motors. His group discovered a new means to sequence DNA by mechanically unzipping it and detecting the hybridization of complementary oligonucleotides as they transiently block its re-zipping. He is also interested in the study of physiology at the single cell level.
Professor Louis S. Bouchard
Professor Louis Bouchard and his group conduct experimental research in physical & analytical chemistry, materials science and bioengineering. We have projects that deal with the development of novel materials, contrast agents & drug delivery systems for biomedical imaging, the study of flows in biological systems, high frequency electromagnetics, condensed matter and heterogeneous catalysis. We combine a range of laboratory and techniques ranging from chemical synthesis to instrumentation development and various spectroscopies based on specific needs of the research. Projects are available for chemistry and engineering students.
Professor Justin R. Caram
Prof. Caram's research leverages the detection, sorting, and timing of individual photons to unravel heterogeneity, complex chemical processes, and energy flow in nanomaterial and biological systems. He combines time correlated single photon counting (TCSPC) and path length interferometry to develop new spectroscopies that probe chemical systems across the visible and shortwave infrared. His group studies the influence of energetic disorder on optoelectronic materials and the complex chemistry of oxidative stress. His research has broad applications,from creating efficient light harvesting materials to understanding disease modalities.
Professor William M. Gelbart
Professor William Gelbart directs a research program, with Professor Charles M. Knobler, which features the interplay between a range of theoretical and experimental approaches to elucidating the physics of viral infectivity. Differences between the life cycles of DNA and RNA viruses -- in particular, how their genomes are packaged into and released from virus particles -- are investigated in terms of the differences between DNA and RNA molecules as physical objects. The tools and methods range from the statistical mechanics of simple models to in vitro systems consisting of a few purified components and to cell culture studies.
Professor James K. Gimzewski
Professor James Gimzewski focuses on nanoscale science and technology with an emphasis on mechanics on the nanoscale. His research consists of: (1) Nanomechanical dynamics and nanoarchitechtonics of living cells. This work is related to cancer, the action of drugs, environmental factors and other mutations in individual cells. The research pioneers the role of mechanics and cellular motion with the aim to develop new forms of medical diagnoses at the single cell level. (2) Use of biochemistry and AFM to gene profile DNA on the single molecule level. (3) Production of compact high energy beams of neutrons, photons, ions, and electrons using point source emitters coupled with piezoelectric and pyroelectric effects.
Professor Alexander J. Levine
Professor Alexander Levine and his group study a variety of problems in the field of soft condensed matter and biophysics. His research involves the application of continuum mechanics and hydrodynamics to biomaterials ranging in length scale from single proteins to biopolymer networks spanning tens of microns, as well as studying some aspects of the statistical mechanics of neuronal networks, phase transitions in colloidal crystals, and even laser trapping of colloidal particles with more complex shapes.
Professor Raphael D. Levine
Professor Raphael Levine pursues research into electronic transport in two-dimensional quantum dot array systems that both hold promise for new electronic devices at the nanoscale and allow researchers to probe fundamental questions regarding electron transport in ordered and disordered lattices. He also investigates chemical reaction dynamics in extreme conditions, such as the hypersonic impact of molecular clusters on solid surfaces.
Professor Thomas G. Mason
Professor Thomas Mason and his group design and fabricate novel colloidal architectures and study their physical properties. The group specializes in making advanced uniform dispersions of solid particulates and liquid droplets. They have an active research program in microrheology, nanoemulsions, light and neutron scattering, microfluidics, and custom-shaped particle dispersions.
Professor Daniel Neuhauser
Professor Daniel Neuhauser is interested in a theoretical understanding of nanoscale devices capable of controlling: i) light (plasmonics, nanopolaritonics), ii) current (nanoelectronics), and iii) spin(spintronics, spinbirefringence.) His group uses computer-aided simulations to model the physical properties of various classes of nanosystems.
Professor Philippe Sautet
Professor Philippe Sautet's research focuses on modeling surfaces and nanomaterials for energy, catalysis and biomolecular applications. His group's activity is centered on first-principles simulations of surfaces (in the form of model planar systems or of the surface of nanomaterial), of the interaction and organization of molecules at these surfaces and of their chemistry and catalytic reactivity. A large part of the activity aims at understanding molecular reactivity on the surface of heterogeneous catalysts from a computational chemistry approach.
Professor Benjamin J. Schwartz
Research in Professor Benjamin Schwartz's group focuses on understanding electronic dynamics in disordered systems. In one main thrust, we investigate the electronic structure of semiconducting polymers. We build photovoltaic and other devices out of these materials, and use a variety of materials characterization and spectroscopic techniques to better understand the physics of how these devices operate at the molecular level. Students working in this area build expertise in semiconductor device processing as well as fundamental physical chemistry. In our other main thrust, we study fundamental photochemical processes, such as photoinduced electron transfer, in solution environments. We use a combination of ultrafast spectroscopy and quantum non-adiabatic molecular dynamics simulations to build a fully molecular-level understanding of the role of the solvent in controlling the dynamics of photochemical reactions. Students working in this area have the opportunity to work with both experimental and theoretical techniques at the cutting edge of condensed-phase chemical reaction dynamics.
Professor Sarah H. Tolbert
Professor Sarah Tolbert and her group focus on the intertwined goals of producing new nanostructured materials by solution-phase self-assembly, and using nanoscale architectures to control device physics. Her research topic includes: 1) materials for energy harvesting, 2)materials for energy storage, 3) magnetic/piezoelectric materials, 4) structural materials, and 5) biomaterials.
Professor Paul S. Weiss
Professor Paul Weiss leads an interdisciplinary research group which includes chemists, physicists, biologists, materials scientists, electrical and mechanical engineers, and computer scientists. Their work focuses on the atomic-scale chemical, physical, optical, mechanical and electronic properties of surfaces and supramolecular assemblies. He and his students have developed new techniques to expand the applicability and chemical specificity of scanning probe microscopies. They have applied these and other tools to the study of catalysis, self- and directed assembly, physical models of biological systems, and molecular and nano-scale electronics. They work to advance nanofabrication down to ever smaller scales and greater chemical specificity in order to connect, to operate, and to test molecular devices.
Professor Shimon Weiss
Professor Shimon Weiss and his group develop and apply ultrahigh-resolution, ultrahigh-sensitivity fluorescence imaging and spectroscopy tools to solving outstanding problems in chemistry & biology. Specifically, they utilize (i) single molecule spectroscopy to study conformational dynamics and transient interactions of proteins; (ii) superresolution and /or ultrasensitive imaging methods to watch life process in live cells on the molecular scale; (iii) activate and/or perturb physiological processes in live zebrafish on the single cell level; (iv) develop unique reagents and chemistries to carry out research topics mentioned.
Professor Gerard C. L. Wong
Professor Gerard Wong's research program is centered on studying self-organization in biological and biomedical systems using state-of-the-art techniques from physics and chemistry. Current interests include antimicrobials, sociomicrobiology of bacterial communities, and high-resolution diffractive imaging techniques using synchrotron x-ray and electron scattering
Professor Jeffrey I. Zink
Professor Jeffrey Zink and his research group work primarily in four different areas: excited state properties of large molecules; laser assisted chemical vapor deposition of nano-particles and structures; functional (optical and electrical) nano-structured materials; and nano-machines.



Experimental Physical Chemistry

Experimental Physical Chemistry at UCLA is strongly interdisciplinary and diverse.

Our faculty are extending the frontiers of biophysical chemistry through experiments on the nanoscale mechanical motions involved in DNA transcription (Weiss), the screaming of yeast cells (Gimzewski), the structure and elasticity of viruses (Knobler & Gelbart), the microrheology of biopolymer solutions and the cytoplasm (Mason).

Further, we are developing new hybrid organic-inorganic materials for making high-conversion and flexible solar cells (Tolbert), and nanobottles for controlled release (Zink). Femtosecond pump-probe laser spectroscopy experiments are revealing the structure of solvent molecules responding to changes of reacting solutes (Schwartz).This short description just touches the surface of the wide range of experiments going on in Physical Chemistry at UCLA. Visit the web pages of the faculty members to learn more about their research interests and the recent activities of their research groups.


Theoretical Physical Chemistry

Theoretical physical chemistry fundamentally probes the structure and dynamics of matter on length scales ranging from the atomic to the macroscopic world of everyday experience. The intellectual breadth of this field is reflected in the diversity of the research efforts in theoretical physical chemistry at UCLA to be described in more detail below. The research of this department also has a strong interdisciplinary component. Pursuing our research into the complex organization and properties of matter on these length scales has lead to important and fruitful collaborations with researchers in a number of related scientific and engineering fields including biology, physics, and material science/engineering, the UCLA medical school, as well as the emerging field of nanotechnology.