Students studying superconductors build magnetic levitation and suspension demonstrations.  All the tracks were built at Ithaca College!

Research in solid state physics is conducted in the Low Temperature Laboratory and Materials Science Facility in the Physics Department at Ithaca College.  This lab, headed by Matthew C. Sullivan, focuses on the study of the behavior of electrons in solids.  His work includes studies of high-temperature superconductors (with transition temperatures above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen, or -321 °F), semiconductors for use in the photoelectrolysis of water to promote a green fuel source, and semiconductors for use in neuromorphic computing, the next generation of high-power computers.

Students in the Low Temperature Lab conduct electronic transport measurements (resistivity, Hall effect, etc.) in a variety of different superconducting and semiconducting materials.  Our equipment can reach temperatures from 80 °C all the way down to 4 °C above absolute zero (-450 °F).

In the Materials Science Facility we use a pulsed laser deposition to make thin films of a variety of different materials.  The facility also houses a profilometer and atomic force microscope to measure the surface morphology of the samples we grow.

We also regularly work at the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility, a world-class academic clean room processing facility.  In this clean room facility we can make electronic devices much smaller than the thickness of a human hair.

Our research has been funded multiple times by the National Science Foundation.

Current Projects

Neuromorphic computing is the attempt to build computer circuits that behave like the brain

Neuromorphic computing is the attempt to build computer circuits that behave like the brain

Studying NbO2 for Neuromorphic Computing

Matthew C. Sullivan

The rapid and seemingly relentless improvement in electronic circuitry over the last seven decades has been driven in large part by miniaturization of the electronic components.  However, quantum physics limits our ability to continue to shrink these circuits, and many researchers have looked to biological systems for inspiration for further improvement.  Neuromorphic computing has the potential to increase memory density and computational speeds while reducing power consumption by mimicking the biological function of neurons.

Silicon wafer during processing in the clean room.

A 4-inch silicon wafer in the middle of processing.  This wafer will eventually become thousands of samples to measure.  Processing done in the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility.

Here at Ithaca College we are studying thin films of niobium oxide for use in neuromorphic circuits.  Thin-film niobium oxide is an ideal candidate for neuromorphic circuits, as it is plentiful, inexpensive, non-toxic, and the thin films can mimic both the brain’s neuron behavior as well as its synapse behavior.  In our lab we are creating devices at the Cornell NanoScale Science and Technology Facility and then measuring those devices in the Low Temperature Lab at Ithaca College.  Our team is focusing their effort on correlating each of the changes to the material with the resulting electronic behavior.  Ultimately, the project’s goal is to develop niobium oxide based electronic components that can seamlessly integrate with the current state-of-the-art silicon-based electronics.  Undergraduate students are integral members of the research team and participate in all aspects of the research project, from device fabrication to sample measurement, during both the summer and during the academic year.

Ted Mburu '24, Antara Sen '22 and Chris Weil '22 create new superconducting levitation demonstration tracks

Ted Mburu '24, Antara Sen '22 and Chris Weil '22 create new superconducting levitation demonstration tracks

Interactive Quantum Levitation Demonstration

Matthew C. Sullivan

Ithaca College Physics and Astronomy students have successfully created many visually stunning demonstrations of flux-pinned superconductors – so called quantum levitation - on our Flat TrackLooped Track, and Möbius Strip Track.  Now is the time to step up our game and create demonstrations that you can not only see but also interact with.  This is an engineering project that will include the 3D printers and measurements of mechanical properties of the systems in question.

Tolman-Stewart Experiment

Seeing the unseen

Matthew C. Sullivan

In 1916, Richard Tolman and Dale Stewart spun a coil of wire to high speeds and showed that electrons carry the current inside metals.  A century of technological advances have made data collection easier thanks to the advent of modern electronics, but at the same time has buried the electrons’ motion underneath the ambient electrical noise inherent in any modern building.  Can we use the tools and skills available in an undergraduate physics lab to detect the motion of the electrons in copper wire – without applying a voltage?

Encapsulating 21st Century Physics: Theory, experiment, and simulation

Matthew C. Sullivan

For nearly 400 years, experiment and theory have been the pillars of physics.  In the 21st century, computer simulations are as important as theory and experiment, and can often explore physical situations that neither theory nor experiment can access.  This research project uses a simple system – heat flowing in a metal rod – to explore all three pillars of 21st century physics.

Here is a quick tour of the Low Temperature Physics Lab and the Materials Science Facility!  Undergraduate students work with all the equipment shown here!

Members of the Team
Collaborating Institutions