Peter S. Pershan

Peter S. Pershan

  • Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of Science, Emeritus


In the 30 years from the early 1980s to retirement my students and I used the latest developments in synchrotron generated X-rays to study fundamental statistical properties of condensed matter with emphasis on the thin liquid films and the surfaces of bulk liquids. Studies included X ray scattering experiments on 2D phases of freely suspended thin smectic phases and the normal structure of wetting films on solid and liquid substrates. Two special results from wetting films included the free surface of superfluid 4He and the Casimir force due to critical fluctuations in a binary liquid. Along with Als-Nielsen I developed new instrumentation for studying the horizontal free surface of liquids and carried out pioneering studies of the structure and dynamics of the liquid/vapor interface of water, elemental and metallic alloys, and Langmuir monolayers on water.

The first 30 years of my research encompassed a variety of areas. My PhD (1960) was done in the Physics Department at Harvard. The term cross-relaxation that I coined in my PhD thesis was incorporated in Abragam’s book “The Principles of Nuclear Magnetism” and formed the basis for a seminal paper on spin energy transfer in MASERS. My understanding of traveling wave tubes lead to the introduction of phase matching in two widely cited papers on Non-Linear Optics (NLO). The effective Hamiltonian (EH) that I developed for NLO has parallels in much of current quantum optical phenomena. For example the EH due to circularly polarized light breaks time reversal symmetry and induces magnetization proportional to the Verdet coefficient of both diamagnetic and paramagnetic materials. Contributions from the 1960s through 1970s were in areas of Magnetic resonance, Magneto Optics and Laser Light Scattering. I later studied liquid crystals, collaborating in the development of a theoretical explanation of the hydrodynamics of liquid crystals and writing the book “Structure of Liquid Crystal Phases”.

Contact Information

Office:Pierce 205C
Office Phone:(617) 495-3214
Office Fax(617) 495-2875
Lab Location:317 McKay
Lab Phone:(617) 495-4015
Assistant:Deni Peric
Assistant Office:Pierce Pierce Hall 225
Assistant Phone:(617) 495-3838

Primary Teaching Area