Department of Physics

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Physics at the Interface: Complex Systems, Condensed Matter, and Interdisciplinary Physics


Over the past 50 years, condensed matter has become the largest field in physics – while complex systems research is perhaps the fastest growing today. These disciplines are linked, and many methods for studying complex systems were originally developed for condensed matter. Both fields connect tightly with other disciplines and with industry.

Physics techniques and complex systems knowledge are extremely useful in interdisciplinary projects. We’re involved in research with scientists and engineers from many fields, including biology, chemistry, ecology, economics and other social sciences.

The burgeoning field of big data analytics opens tremendous prospects for experienced graduates across diverse industries. Condensed matter also feeds graduates into multiple domains. With our central focus on complex, soft matter, the medical industry is particularly welcoming.  

Shaun Hendy is interested in the complex systems that occur in condensed matter as well as in economics and society. He uses computer simulation, statistical physics, and mathematics to study problems in fields as diverse as nanoscience, materials science, social systems, and the economic geography of innovation. Dion O’Neale is involved in the network analysis of complex systems, with a particular focus on the economics of science and innovation.

Nicola Gaston employs quantum mechanical techniques to interrogate the relationship between electronic structure and the chemical and physical environment. She is particularly focused on the relationship between size and the properties of atom-clusters, molecules, and nano-particles. Malcolm Grimson’s interests encompass statistical mechanics, phase transitions, thin films, multiferroics, and skyrmions.

Cather Simpson leads the Photon Factory. She specialises in ultrafast spectroscopy, laser micromachining and microfabrication, photonics and microfluidics, including device development and other high-value manufacturing innovations. Geoff Willmott works with soft condensed matter. He's particularly interested in nanofluidics and dynamic microfluidics. These are fields with rich applications in medicine, biotechnology, and industry.

We also have a strong grouping around the biological interface. Frédérique Vanholsbeeck’s expertise includes optical imaging and sensing, with a focus on biomedical and primary industry applications. She works with clinicians, biologists and engineers. Peter Wills is a theoretical biologist who explores the origin of life, genetic coding, prion proteins, self-organising autocatalysis, and quasispecies (closely related molecules resulting from errors in nucleic acid self-replication).

Many members of our team have important roles in three Centres of Research Excellence: Te Pūnaha Matatini, The Dodds-Wall Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, and The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology .

Research stories