Applied Physics

The Applied Physics area within Electrical and Computer Engineering covers the various physical building blocks of modern computing, sensing, communication, medical technologies, and energy generation. Our coursework and research represents the interweaving of concepts in physics with their engineering applications.

Our department has a long history of pioneering and advancing solid-state electronic devices, the underpinning for all modern computers. Our accomplished alumni in this area include Jack Kilby (MS ’50), Nobel Prize in 2000), the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, and John Bardeen (BS ’28), the co-inventor of the transistor, and the only person to win the Physics Nobel Prize twice.

Today, our faculty in the solid-state electronics area seek to advance the state of the art in electronic devices, especially high-frequency circuits, flexible sensors and transistors, and new micro- and nano-fabrication techniques. We engage in both hands-on applied research, fabricating devices down to the nanometer scales, as well as cutting-edge modeling and simulations of highly complex solid-state systems featuring intermingling electronics, phonons, and photons.


The ECE Department is a leader in the rapidly growing area of optics and photonics, recently identified as a national priority ( Optics and photonics encompasses the science and engineering of sight, communication, imaging, and detection, and our faculty are leading efforts to revolutionize the way that light is generated, detected, and manipulated. Our work includes deeply subwavelength nanostructures that bend light at the nanometer scale, high-power semiconductor lasers designed on cutting-edge quantum mechanical calculations, and flexible detectors and imaging devices that can integrate with the human body. Some of the research takes on an almost-science-fiction quality – for example, infrared camouflage similar to the blending-in of chameleons, and laser based imaging systems that can see around corners over distances as far as from the earth to the moon.

The highly interdisciplinary nature of this field results in close interactions between ECE faculty and students and as many as ten other departments across the university (

Our department includes world-renowned faculty in basic and applied electromagnetics research who are developing a host of new technologies in the radio-frequency (RF) and microwave bands. Microwave and RF devices – sources, antennas, arrays, etc. – are key components for modern communication networks, radar and remote sensing systems, and medical diagnostic and therapeutic technologies. Our research innovations are leading to new capabilities for generating high-power microwaves, steering electromagnetic radiation at high speeds and without moving parts, delivering electromagnetic energy in a customized, controlled manner, and non-invasively sensing the world around us. We are also pioneering computational tools for electromagnetics design and optimization. Our research activities are highly collaborative within the department, and across campus.

The ECE Department features multiple RF and microwave laboratories where we build and test new technologies, as well as advanced computational capabilities that serve as “virtual lab benches.”

UW-Madison features one of the most comprehensive programs in plasma physics and nuclear fusion in the country, spread among several departments ( Our department is home to the only US-based working stellarator, a device that confines plasmas using magnetic fields to sustained controlled nuclear fusion. Plasma science is also a key area for the manufacturing of solid-state electronic and photonic devices because plasma processes are widely used in micro- and nanofabrication. Our researchers carry out in-depth studies of the impact of plasma processing on the fabrication of electronics components, and their long-term functionality.