News & Highlights

Research Highlights

Vision Quest
Published: 03-02-2017
The Perkins group continues to extend the performance of its unique Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) technology, revealing for the first time a dozen new short-lived intermediate states in the folding and unfolding of a membrane protein that controls the exchange of chemicals and ions into and out of living cells. Measuring the energetics and dynamics of membrane proteins is crucial to understanding normal physiology and disease, and the Perkins group’s observation of multiple new folding/...
Quantum Leaps
Published: 12-21-2016
Research associate Shimon Kolkowitz and his colleagues in the Ye group and Rey theory group have developed a powerful new way to experimentally simulate the complex behavior of electrons in solids. In these experiments, the team uses its strontium lattice optical clock not to track time, but to take advantage of the ultracold atoms in the clock mimicking the quantum behavior of electrons in a lattice of metal atoms. Because the ultracold atoms in the clock can be controlled and measured so much...
Molecules at the Quantum Frontier
Published: 12-19-2016
Deborah Jin, Jun Ye, and their students wrote a review during the summer of 2016 for Nature Physics highlighting the accomplishments and future directions of the relatively new field of ultracold-molecule research. The field was pioneered by the group’s creation of the world’s first gas of ultracold potassium-rubidium (KRb) molecules in 2008. The molecules were made by first creating weakly bound pairs of K and Rb atoms from an ultracold atomic mixture and then using lasers to transfer the atom...
The Beautiful Ballet of Quantum Baseball
Published: 12-12-2016
The Rey and Ye groups discovered the strange rules of quantum baseball earlier this year. But now, quantum baseball games happen faster, and players (dipolar particles) are no longer free to move or stand wherever they want. Players must not only be stronger to jump and catch the balls (photons), but also more organized. At the same time, they must be good spinners. And, only a small amount of disorder is tolerated! The fast spinning of the players and their fixed positions have made quantum...
Recreating Fuels from Waste Gas
Published: 11-21-2016
Graduate student Mike Thompson of the Weber group wants to understand the basic science of taking carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by burning fossil fuels and converting it back into useful fuels. People could then use these fuels to generate electricity, heat homes and office buildings, power automobiles and trains, fly airplanes, and drive the industrial processes of modern life. However, the conversion of CO2 into useful fuels is a challenging problem in chemistry and chemical engineering. It...
Going Viral: The Source of a Spin-Flip Epidemic
Published: 11-11-2016
For a long time, there’s been a mystery concerning how tiny interactions between individual atoms could lead to really big changes in a whole cloud of independent-minded particles. The reason this behavior is mysterious is that the atoms interact weakly, and only when they are very close to each other. Yet, the atoms clear across the cloud seem to know when it’s time to participate in some big-deal quantum behavior such as simultaneously all changing the direction of their spins. Now graduate...
The Ultimate Radar Detector
Published: 09-26-2016
The Nesbitt group has invented a nifty technique for exploring the physics and chemistry of a gas interacting with molecules on the surface of a liquid. The group originally envisioned the technique because it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of understanding surface chemistry. For instance, ozone depletion in the atmosphere occurs because of chemical reactions of hydrochloric acid on the surface of ice crystals and aerosols in the upper atmosphere. Interstellar chemistry takes place...
A Quantum Metal Model System
Published: 09-26-2016
Exciting new theory from the Rey group reveals the profound effects of electron interactions on the flow of electric currents in metals. Controlling currents of strongly interacting electrons is critical to the development of tomorrow’s advanced microelectronics systems, including spintronics devices that will process data faster, use less power than today’s technology, and operate in conditions where quantum effects predominate. The group’s secret to better understanding electron interactions...
How Cold Can a Tiny Drum Get?
Published: 07-20-2016
Bob Peterson and his colleagues in the Lehnert-Regal lab recently set out to try something that had never been done before: use laser cooling to systematically reduce the temperature of a tiny drum made of silicon nitride as low as allowed by the laws of quantum mechanics. Although laser cooling has become commonplace for atoms, researchers have only recently used lasers to cool tiny silicon nitride drums, stretched over a silicon frame, to their quantum ground state. Peterson and his team...
Quantum Baseball
Published: 03-31-2016
The Ye and Rey groups have discovered the strange rules of quantum baseball in which strontium (Sr) atoms are the players, and photons of light are the balls. The balls control the players by not only getting the atoms excited, but also working together. The players coordinate throwing and catching the balls. While this is going on, the balls can change the state of the players! Sometimes the balls even escape the quantum baseball game altogether and land on detectors in the laboratory. The...
Reconstruction
Published: 02-10-2016
Cong Chen and his colleagues in the Kapteyn/Murnane group have generated one of the most complex coherent light fields ever produced using attosecond (10-18 s) pulses of circularly polarized extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light. (The circularly polarized EUV light is shown as rotating blue sphere on the left of the picture. The complex coherent light field is illustrated with the teal, lilac, and purple structures along the driving laser beam (wide red line). The amazing thing about this work is...
Creative Adventures in Coupling
Published: 01-28-2016
The Rey and Ye groups are in the midst of an extended collaboration on using the Ye group’s strontium (Sr) lattice clock for studies of spin-orbit coupling in pancake-like layers of cold Sr atoms. Spin-orbit coupling means an atom’s motion is correlated with its spin. It occurs in everyday materials when negatively charged electrons move in response to electromagnetic fields inside a crystal. By making cold neutral atoms behave as charged particles, it will be possible to better understand the...
Back to the Future: The Ultraviolet Surprise
Published: 12-03-2015
Imagine laser-like x-ray beams that can “see” through materials––all the way into the heart of atoms. Or, envision an exquisitely controlled four-dimensional x-ray microscope that can capture electron motions or watch chemical reactions as they happen. Such exquisite imaging may soon be possible with laser-like x-rays produced on a laboratory optical table. These possibilities have opened up because of new research from the Kapteyn/Murnane group. For example, one important part of a microscope...
Dancing to the Quantum Drum Song
Published: 11-30-2015
In the future, quantum microwave networks may handle quantum information transfer via optical fibers or microwave cables. The evolution of a quantum microwave network will rely on innovative microwave circuits currently being developed and characterized by the Lehnert group. Applications for this innovative technology could one day include quantum computing, converters that transform microwave signals to optical light while preserving any encoded quantum information, and advanced quantum...
A Thousand Splendid Pairs
Published: 11-06-2015
JILA’s cold molecule collaboration (Jin and Ye Groups, with theory support from the Rey Group) recently made a breakthrough in their efforts to use ultracold polar molecules to study the complex physics of large numbers of interacting quantum particles. By closely packing the molecules into a 3D optical lattice (a sort of “crystal of light”), the team was able to create the first “highly degenerate” gas of ultracold molecules. In other words, the ultracold molecular gas was much closer to the...
Natural Born Entanglers
Published: 11-02-2015
The Regal and Rey groups have come up with a novel way to generate and propagate quantum entanglement [1], a key feature required for quantum computing. Quantum computing requires that bits of information called qubits be moved from one location to another, be available to interact in prescribed ways, and then be isolated for storage or subsequent interactions. The group showed that single neutral atoms carried in tiny traps called optical tweezers may be a promising technology for the job! To...
Born of Frustration
Published: 10-21-2015
Scientists often use ultracold atoms to study the behavior of atoms and electrons in solids and liquids (a.k.a. condensed matter). Their goal is to uncover microscopic quantum behavior of these condensed matter systems and develop a controlled environment to model materials with new and advanced functionality. In an exciting new theory investigation, Fellow Ana Maria Rey and research associate Leonid Isaev have showed how ultracold atoms in optical lattices (created with intersecting laser...
The Land of Enhancement: AFM Spectroscopy
Published: 10-16-2015
The Perkins Group has demonstrated a 50 to 100 times improvement in the time resolution for studying the details of protein folding and unfolding on a commercial Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). This enhanced real time probing of protein folding is revealing details in these complex processes never seen before. This substantial enhancement in AFM force spectroscopy may one day have powerful clinical applications, including in the development of drugs to treat disease caused by misfolded proteins...
From BEC to Breathing Forever
Published: 10-05-2015
It took Eric Cornell three years to build JILA’s first Top Trap with his own two hands in the lab. The innovative trap relied primarily on magnetic fields and gravity to trap ultracold atoms. In 1995, Cornell and his colleagues used the Top Trap to make the world’s first Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), an achievement that earned Cornell and Carl Wieman the Nobel Prize in 2001. The Nobel-Prize-winning creation of BEC had been a race to the finish line, as labs all over the world had also been...
The Guiding Light
Published: 09-21-2015
The Kapteyn/Murnane group, with Visiting Fellow Charles Durfee, has figured out how to use visible lasers to control x-ray light! The new method not only preserves the beautiful coherence of laser light, but also makes an array of perfect x-ray laser beams with controlled direction and polarization. Such pulses may soon be used for observing chemical reactions or investigating the electronic motions inside atoms. They are also well suited for studying magnetic materials and chiral molecules...
An Array of Possibilities
Published: 08-19-2015
Graduate student Brian Lester of the Regal group has taken an important step toward building larger, more complex systems from single-atom building blocks. His accomplishment opens the door to advances in neutral-atom quantum computing, investigations of the interplay of spin and motion as well as the synthesis of novel single molecules from different atoms. What Lester did was to create a 2 x 2 array of independent optical tweezers (traps), each containing a single neutral rubidium atom. He...
Lattice Light and the Chips
Published: 08-10-2015
Compact and transportable optical lattices are coming soon to a laboratory near you, thanks to the Anderson group and its spin-off company, ColdQuanta. A new robust on-chip lattice system (which measures 2.3 cm on a side) is now commercially available. The chip comes with a miniature vacuum system, lasers, and mounting platform. Graduate student Cameron Straatsma and his colleagues recently completed a successful proof-of-principle experiment with the on-chip optical lattice system. Their goal...
Metamorphosis
Published: 07-01-2015
A grand challenge of ultracold physics is figuring out how fermions become bosons. This is an important question because the tiniest quantum particles of matter are all fermions. However, these fermions can form larger chunks of matter, such as atoms and molecules, which can be either fermions or bosons. An interesting feature of fermions and bosons is that they behave very differently at ultracold temperatures. Fermions prefer to go it alone while bosons tend to hang out together. To learn...
About Time
Published: 04-21-2015
The Ye group has just improved the accuracy of the world’s best optical atomic clock by another factor of three and set a new record for clock stability. The accuracy and stability of the improved strontium lattice optical clocks is now about 2 x 10-18, or the equivalent of not varying from perfect time by more than one second in 15 billion years—more than the age of the Universe. Clocks like the Ye Group optical lattice clocks are now so exquisitely precise that they may have outpaced...
A Bug’s Life
Published: 04-20-2015
The Ye Group recently investigated what first appeared to be a “bug” in an experiment and made an unexpected discovery about a new way to generate high-harmonic light using molecular gases rather than gases of noble atoms. Graduate student Craig Benko and his colleagues in the Ye group were studying the interaction of light from an extreme ultraviolet (XUV) frequency comb with molecules of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas (N2O), when they noticed unusual perturbations in the laser spectrum. At...

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