Theoretical Physics

Theoretical Physics

  • Theoretical Physics

Theoretical physics draws inspiration from experimental data, that might appear as limited, fragmentary or even contradictory, and from these draws inspiration to build mathematical models that can explain and predict carefully the behavior of nature, highlighting symmetries and regularities at all scales. Theoretical research developed at the Department, with a dense plot of collaborations in Italy and abroad, covers almost all areas of physics, from the dynamics of the universe on a large scale up to that of the quarks that make up the elementary particles.
Advanced electromagnetism (not active in 20/21)FIS/01B1I6I/1
Object-oriented programming for experimental data analysisFIS/01B1I6I/1
Physics of complex systems and laboratoryFIS/01B1I6II/1
Applications of quantum field theoryFIS/02CII A6I/2
Elements of quantum field theorySFIS/02CII A6II/1
Artificial Intelligence (new)FIS/02CII A6
Nuclear physicsFIS/04CII C6I/2
Astroparticle cosmologyFIS/05CII D6I/2
S: Strongly suggested for this track

Theoretical physics builds mathematical models able to explain and carefully predict the behavior of nature, highlighting symmetries and regularities at all scales. Theoretical research developed at the Department, with a dense plot of collaborations in Italy and abroad, covers almost all areas of physics, from the dynamics of the universe at large scales to that of the quarks that make up the elementary particles.
The following highlights the main areas of theoretical research active within  the Departments and the corresponding study options available to students considering to major in theoretical physics.



Modern Cosmology attempts to provide science-driven answers to questions as old as mankind. A cosmologist is a physicist who investigates global properties of the Universe, including its dynamics and the interaction between its basic components. A theoretical cosmologist develops dedicated physical-mathematical models to unveil and better understand such global properties.
The research carried out by the theoretical cosmology group at the University of Ferrara is representative of the above scenario. The group mission is to investigate aspects of fundamental physics with cosmological probes. This is achieved in light of current and future observations of international experiments, either space-borne (Planck, LiteBIRD, Euclid), or sub-orbital (LSPE, Simons Observatory, CMB-S4). The main research activities of the group include the study of the early Universe (inflation, violation of fundamental symmetries in Nature, cosmic anomalies), the investigation of the nature of dark matter and dark energy, the study of fundamental particles and their properties (neutrino cosmology, and particle cosmology at large).


SUGGESTED COURSES: Astroparticle Cosmology, Relativity (for details, see the table above).


This research area considers fundamental particle interactions, as described by the Standard Model and its extensions, and their impact on the evolution of the universe.  It thus links the very small with the very big. The aim is to build theoretical models addressing open issues at the frontier between particle physics and cosmology – such as primordial inflation, matter-antimatter asymmetry, dark matter and dark radiation, black holes, … – and to face them with observational data.
As an example of a recent activity pursued in Ferrara, we mention primordial black holes. Via their evaporation mechanism, primordial black holes might have released stable particles beyond the Standard Model, constituting now the bulk or a fraction of the observed dark matter. If sufficiently light, stable particles from primordial black holes evaporation might also provide a significant contribution to dark radiation. 
Other areas of research explore the stability of the “electo-weak” vacuum in the Standard Model, trying to establish a link with cosmic inflation, at the very beginning of the history of our Universe.
Yet another active area is the study of an Effective Field Theory formalism for hydro-dynamical excitations in (super)fluids and (super)solid with application to cosmology  (Inflation and Dark Matter/Energy).


SUGGESTED COURSES: Relativity, Elements of quantum field theory,  Applications of quantum field theory, Nuclear physics,  Astroparticle cosmology (for details, see the table above)


The behavior of matter at densities larger than the ones reached at the center of atomic nuclei is the subject of intense research. A variety of possibilities have been proposed: matter could contain  hyperons (and other types of hadronic resonances); deconfined quarks could be present; condensates of mesons (pions or kaons) could be produced. Most of these possibilities are linked to a fundamental question: is the nucleus of  56Fe the most stable form of matter or an even more bound system exists, composed of a mixture of deconfined up, down and strange quarks? The implications of that possibility are enormous and they involve the existence of stars entirely made of deconfined quarks, of new mechanisms active in astrophysical explosions (Supernovae and Gamma-Ray Bursts) and of a non-standard scenario for the merger of two compact stars, for the emission of Gravitational Waves and for the production of heavy elements in the Kilonova process. At the lab scale, experiments of heavy-ion collisions (ALICE at CERN, FAIR at GSI, NICA at Dubna) can shed light on such issues.
Researches along these lines performed in Ferrara are connected to similar projects in Italy (NEUMATT of INFN) and abroad (e.g. Pharos of the EU). They are also related to the development of the scientific cases of x-ray satellites as eXTP and THESEUS.


SUGGESTED COURSES: Nuclear Physics, Elements of quantum field theory, Applications of quantum field theory, Relativity (for details, see the table above).


The study of what happens when a system is made of many different parts that all interact among each other, possibly at different space and temporal scales, and a common behavior emerges out of this dynamics is usually referred to as the physics of complex systems.
The dynamics of the atmosphere or the behavior of financial markets, but also the evolution in time of a pandemic event or the turbulent flow of electrons is ultra-pure graphene samples or the behavior of the quarks and gluons that make up a nucleon are examples of complex systems.
The complex dynamics of these systems can hardly be captured by traditional mathematical analysis, so a box of new analysis tools has been developed over the years to understand these system;  numerical modeling, simulation, statistical analysis and data analysis, made possible by powerful computer systems, are the common key to the study of a large variety of different complex systems. Research along these lines in Ferrara focuses on the development of simulation algorithms tools able to uncover the dynamics of aggregates of particle at all scales; These methods are able to describe accurately a variety of different complex systems, ranging from the turbulent dynamics of fluids and gases to the flow of electrons in solid-state systems and other exotic materials to the interaction of matter and radiation in super-novae explosions.


SUGGESTED COURSES: Physics of Complex Systems and Laboratory, Statistical physics, Elements of quantum field theory, Artificial Intelligence (for details, see the table above).


Geoneutrinos are  the antineutrinos from the progenies of U, Th and K40 decays in the Earth interior. These particles represent a new probe of our planet, providing  information on the content of natural radioactive elements and  shedding light on the sources of the terrestrial heat flow, on the present composition and on the origins of the Earth.
Activity in Ferrara along these lines provides theoretical support to the comprehensive geoneutrino measurement of the  Borexino experiment  at LNGS and to the analysis of the expected geoneutrino signal of the planned JUNO experiment, in China.  Part of these analysis has to do with the study of the major source of background in geoneutrino detection: antineutrinos produced at nuclear power plants. By using reactor operational records published by the International Energy Agency, we calculate the expected reactor antineutrino signal month by month, and regularly update these prediction, as the number of  operating power plants varies over time and as more accurate neutrino oscillation parameters become available. In this framework we also provide a reference worldwide model for antineutrinos from reactors (for more information


SUGGESTED COURSE: Nuclear and subnuclear geophysics (for details, see the table above).