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Robert Thorne


Clark Hall, Room 529a
511 Clark Hall

Educational Background

B.Sc., 1981, University of Manitoba. Ph.D., 1987, University of Illinois at Urbana. Assistant Professor, Physics, Cornell, 1988-1994. Associate Professor, Physics, Cornell, 1994-2000. Professor, Physics, Cornell, 2000-present. Presidential Young Investigator, 1988-1993. Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, 1988-1990. Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow, 2011-present. Founder and CTO, MiTeGen LLC, 2004-present.


Studies of protein structure and dynamics using X-ray crystallography and small-angle X-ray scattering; glass formation, crystallization, and phase behavior of water and aqueous solutions; cryopreservation; XRF imaging of ancient artifacts; charge-density-wave conductors.


  • Physics

Graduate Fields

  • Biophysics
  • Physics


  • Cornell Center for Materials Research (CCMR)
  • Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics (LASSP)


X-ray Studies of Protein Structure and Dynamics
High-resolution structures of proteins and other biological macromolecules determined using X-ray crystallography provide insight into molecular function and the basis for design and discovery of new pharmaceutical compounds.  However, growing suitable quality protein crystals is often very challenging; the crystals are damaged by X-rays and by the cryogenic cooling used to reduce X-ray damage; and structures determined at cryogenic temperatures may not accurately capture all biologically relevant information, especially about subtle spatially correlated displacements essential to, e.g., ligand binding and enzymatic function.  We are focused on developing experimental and computational methods to significantly increase both the quality and kinds of information about protein structure, energy landscapes,and function that can be obtained via crystallography.  Techniques used include synchrotron-based X-ray imaging, ultra-high dose rate, ultra-fast time-resolved X-ray diffraction, ultra-fast cooling, small-angle X-ray scattering, quasi-elastic light scattering, fluorescence microscopy, and microfabrication.  Some of our discoveries have been commercialized by MiTeGen, LLC, and are used by structural biologists around the world.

Nucleation, Growth and Glass Formation in Aqueous Systems
The physics of ice nucleation and growth is important in fields ranging from cryobiology and cryopreservation to cloud formation and climate change. We are studying fundamental aspects of ice nucleation and growth and of glass formation in aqueous systems, especially in the regimes of ultrafast cooling and ultrafast warming, and their applications in biological cryopreservation. 

X-ray Fluorescence Imaging of Ancient Artifacts
In collaboration with classicists and archaeologists, we have been using synchrotron-based X-ray fluorescence imaging and complementary methods to study ancient artifacts including Greek and Latin inscriptions on stone, ancient glasses from Iraq, and artifacts from the Maya and other Mesoamerican cultures.  XRF imaging allows us to explore the tools and materials used in creating the objects, to discover how the objects looked at the time of their creation, and to recover lost or hidden text and images.

Electronic and Structural Properties of Charge-Density-Wave Conductors
Low-dimensional electronic materials that undergo transitions to charge or spin-density wave states are among the most remarkable conducting materials ever discovered. They exhibit extremely diverse phenomena having analogs in superconducting, magnetic, and pattern forming systems. Our current projects include fabrication and characterization of CDW microstructures and characterizing the spatiotemporal dynamics and phase diagram of driven density waves.

Physics Education
Future U.S. economic competitiveness depends upon our ability to recruit and train a highly skilled workforce in science, technology, engineering and the health professions.  Physics is a critical gateway to all of these disciplines, and provides the foundation for fundamental understanding, for analyzing data, and for solving problems. Following Cornell’s long tradition of innovation in physics education, we have been developing teaching methods and materials that engage students of diverse backgrounds and interests, and that help them to develop both mastery of and a  broader appreciation for physics. We have also developed a program to give Cornell undergraduates a practical and intellectual introduction to teaching and learning, and to recruit and train future high school physics teachers. 

Graduate Students
Jesse Hopkins, David Moreau, Hakan Atakisi

Undergraduate Students
Chen Shen