Physics has always been at the heart of SNS scientific research with its highly selected faculty and students, as witnessed by the two former SNS Alumni and Nobel Laureates Enrico Fermi and Carlo Rubbia, among many other outstanding physicists. Graduate students have the opportunity to work daily in close contact with leading experts on a wide range of scales, from sub-atomic physics to cosmology, pursuing either theoretical or experimental research. Interdisciplinary work with other areas (mathematics, chemistry, biology) is warmly encouraged. SNS provides an inclusive, gender-balanced and international (all courses are in English) environment attracting the best talents from all over the world (currently, about 40% of students are international) in the beautiful Tuscany region where Pisa is located. At present research at the Scuola Normale Superiore covers the following areas: Cosmology and Astrophysics, High Energy Physics, Condensed Matter. These are described below.
Boosted by the recent experimental and theoretical advances that have enabled the exploration of the cosmic frontiers up to an epoch when the Universe was only a few percent of its current age, research in Cosmology and Astrophysics focuses on the physical processes underlying cosmic evolution. The research is based on a combination of theoretical investigations, supercomputing simulations and experimental data. More specifically, the research group in this area works on the formation of the first galaxies, black holes and their impact and structure formation. We are also involved in the area of "21 cm line cosmology", with the aim of studying cosmic reionization and the nature of dark matter. The research is performed in the framework of large international collaborations as the HST, SKA, and ALMA and in collaboration with INAF (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica). Recently, new research lines, as Astrobiology, have been launched.
Research in Physics of Fundamental Interactions has a long tradition at Scuola Normale. It is done in complete synergy with INFN (Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare). LHC activity at CERN and the experiments to search for dark matter make the future of high-energy physics very exciting. The most important question has been triggered by the recent discovery of the Higgs Boson: we do not know yet if this particle is the long-awaited Higgs Boson of the Standard Model or the first particle of a new physics sector that could allow us to make the first step towards the resolution of open problems at the electro-weak scale. On a more formal level the central issue is a deeper understanding of the theory of gravitational interaction. This line of research is pursued with emphasis on the field theory of higher spins, on issues related to the breaking of Supersymmetry in String Theory and in Supergravity, on their applications to Cosmology and on some general properties of non-linear realizations, with an eye to string dualities and to the very foundations of the String Theory. In addition to these theoretical and phenomenological activities, researchers and SNS students are engaged in the CMS and LHCb experiments at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN covering both direct searches of physics beyond the Standard Model and precision measurements.
Condensed Matter Physics at SNS includes various research areas, ranging from the physics of metals and semiconductors to superconductors. These areas share a deep interest in the physics of nanostructures. Our scientists are very much interested in new materials, as e.g. graphene. Condensed matter research at our National Enterprise for nanoScience and nanoTechnology (NEST) laboratory covers low temperature physics, transport in nanostructures, and nano-photonics. On the theoretical side, most of the attention has been devoted to the study of many-body systems, quantum transport, quantum optics, quantum information and electronic/optical properties of semiconductors. A key feature of condensed matter research at SNS is to combine fundamental physics research with its impact on emerging technologies.
Teaching is divided into lecture and seminar courses. The graduate students in Physics will annually agree with the PhD Coordinator a study plan to be presented to the Faculty Board. Such document will specify the planned research and education activities for the relevant academic year. PhD students are expected to take at least three courses and to pass the corresponding exams. The courses should be chosen such as to enlarge the student physics background and deepen specific aspects related to the PhD Thesis project. At the end of the first year students are expected, in close consultation with the Coordinator and with approval from the Faculty Board, to choose the Thesis supervisor and project. At the end of the second year students should present a written report (called pre-Thesis) concerning the research done and the results achieved so far, together with any publications produced. The pre-Thesis work will be discussed in an oral presentation in front of a panel of experts appointed by the Faculty Board. Upon successful performance, the student will be admitted to the third year, during which (s)he is expected to complete the research and write a fully-fledged Thesis. According to research needs, students are encouraged to spend periods of study and research at Italian and foreign institutions. Under motivated conditions, an extension period of the fellowship beyond the standard 3 years can be granted.