The Natural Sciences Faculty of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, strives to crack celestial codes, peers deep into the atom, and experiments with high-energy physics, while, at the same time, trying to explain the theory behind it all. Its sweep covers biological and chemical sciences, among many.

Last week, this column gave a general overview of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, and the research facilities available there. This time, the Natural Sciences Faculty of the institute, covering a vast area, will be dealt with. The faculty, for the sake of convenience, stands divided into seven streams.

Astronomy and astrophysics.

Biological sciences.

Chemical sciences.

Condensed matter physics and materials.

High-energy physics.

Theoretical physics.

Nuclear and atomic physics.

Astronomy and astrophysics

The research interests are spread over a wide range of observational and theoretical areas. The activity is broadly divided into three groups:

Theoretical astrophysics: study of the sun, supernovae, neutron stars and pulsars, nucleo-synthesis, accretion disks around neutron stars and black holes, cosmic star formation history, gravitational lensing and cosmology, general relativity and gravitational collapse, and dark energy.

Infrared and optical astronomy: study of star formation in our galaxy and other spiral galaxies; structure and energetics of galactic star-forming regions through high angular resolution; far infrared spectroscopic and photometric mapping; radiative transfer in interstellar clouds; Infrared studies of circumstellar shells, young stellar objects and AGB (asymptotic giant branch) stars; study of interstellar medium using radio, sub-mm, infrared imaging and spectroscopy; physics and chemistry of photon-dominated regions; and study of the galactic structure.

X-ray and gamma ray astronomy: Timing and spectral studies of black holes and neutron star binaries, cataclysmic variables, nuclei of active galaxies and quasars; X-ray spectroscopy of stellar coronae and energetic phenomena on the sun; study of hot interstellar medium and supernova remnants; accretion disk-jet connection and origin of jets

The observations are carried out using ground-based facilities as well as balloon-borne and satellite-borne instruments. This is supplemented by the work done in radio astronomy and high-energy cosmic rays by other groups in the institute.

Biological sciences

Ph.D. degree: This is a five-year research programme. Students are offered rotations in different research labs. They also attend basic core courses in their first semester. Towards the end of the semester, students are assigned to specific labs. The preferences of both students and members of the faculty are taken into consideration when assigning labs.

There is an interesting philosophy behind the rotations. The students enter the programme with an open mind and decide their lab choices only after three rotations. Many of them end up with choices very different from what they had initially in mind. The training period involves diverse experiences which contribute to making a good scientist.

Integrated PhD degree: This is a six-year research programme, at the end of which both M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees are awarded. Students are offered rotations in different research labs, and assigned specific labs as in the case of Ph.D. students mentioned above. At the end of their Ph.D. and integrated Ph.D. training, the students normally get post-doctoral positions in top-notch labs at the global level. Many of them return to join as faculty in various Indian institutes and universities.

Chemical sciences

The activities of this department, formerly known as Chemical Physics Group or Nuclear, Electron Magnetism Group, have steadily expanded over the years and got diversified into several research areas in the frontiers of chemical and biochemical sciences. Several state-of-the-art techniques are being used in these research activities. The department, among other things, offers Ph.D. degrees in chemical sciences.

Condensed matter physics

This Department of Condensed Matter Physics and Material Sciences carries out a wide range of frontier research activities including the following.

Giant magneto-resistance.

Heavy fermions.

High-resolution electron energy loss spectroscopy.

High-resolution photo-emission spectroscopy,XPS (X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy), UPS (Ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopy), andARPES (Angle-resolvedphotoemission spectroscopy).

Mossbauer spectroscopy.

Nuclear magnetic resonance.

Organic and amorphous semiconductors.

Physics of nanomaterials.

Raman spectroscopy.

Semiconductor quantum well structures.

Single crystal growth of rare earth intermetallics.

Soft condensed matter physics.

Spin glasses.

Spin-resolved photoemission spectroscopy.

Superconductivity and magnetism.

Surface studies using scanning probe microscope.

Terahertz spectroscopy.

Transmission electron microscopy.

Transport properties in high magnetic fields and low temperatures.

Ultrafast optoelectronics photonics, plasmonics.

High-energy physics

The focus is on experiments which speculate about the origin, evolution, and ultimate fate of the universe using various techniques, both accelerator-based and non-accelerator-based. The following are some of the explorative experiments.

Belle Experiment at KEK, Japan.

The CMS Experiment at CERN.

D0 experiment at Fermilab.

Grapes Experiment, Ooty, India.

Gravitation and experiments with cold atoms.

High Energy Gamma Ray Observatory, Panchmarhi, and Hanley (Ladakh), India.

India Neutrino Observatory (INO).

Instrumentation and Detector Developments.

L3 Experiment.

Precision measurements on gravitation.

Theoretical physics

Research in condensed matter and statistical physics, high-energy physics, string theory, and cosmology.

Nuclear physics

This is the earliest department in the institute. Research in atomic, molecular, and optical sciences gets a major thrust. Some of the areas of research are shown below.

Accelerator based atomic and molecular physics.

Accelerator-based condensed matter physics.

Biological physics.

Coherent control of molecules.

Electron-induced dynamics and chemical control.

Giant dipole resonance in nuclei.

Interaction of matter with extreme light fields.

Ion-atom and ion-molecule collisions.

Nano-optics and mesoscopic optics.

Nonlinear optics and ultrafast dynamics.

Nuclear physics near the Coulomb barrier.

Nuclear structure and spectroscopy of high spin states in exotic nuclei.

Nuclear symmetry energy and multi-fragmentation.

Physics with CEP stabilized few cycle laser pulses.

Quark-gluon plasma.

Transfer reactions and incomplete fusion.

Ultrafast photonics and photonic device modelling.

Studies on the following are also being carried out.

Atomic collision dynamics under weak and strong perturbation.

Nuclear behaviour under extreme conditions of angular momentum and isospin.

Probing astrophysical phenomena on a laboratory scale.

Properties of atomic nuclei and their fundamental constituents, the quarks and gluons.

Properties of the quark-gluon plasma formed in ultra-relativistic energy heavy ion collisions

Search for rare shape-phase transitions through the exclusive measurements of high-energy giant dipole resonance gamma rays.

Structural properties of light two-neutron halo nuclei near the neutron drip line.

Structure, dynamics and the equation of state of neutron-rich asymmetric nuclear matter formed in intermediate energy heavy ion collisions.

Symmetries of nuclear structure and correlations among the nucleons.