News & Highlights

Research Highlights

The Squeeze Machine
Published: 10-11-2013
Research associate Tom Purdy and his colleagues in the Regal group have just built an even better miniature light-powered machine that can now strip away noise from a laser beam. Their secret: a creative workaround of a quantum limit imposed by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. This limit makes it impossible to simultaneously reduce the noise on both the amplitude and phase of light inside interferometers and other high-tech instruments that detect miniscule position changes. Purdy’s team...
The Great Spin Swap
Published: 09-18-2013
Research associate Bo Yan and his colleagues recently observed spin exchanges in ultracold potassium-rubidium (KRb) molecules inside an optical lattice (a crystal of light formed by interacting laser beams). In solid materials, such spin exchanges are the building blocks of advanced materials and exotic behavior. The spin exchanges occurred when a rotationally excited KRb molecule interacted with a non-rotating KRb molecule in the ground state. Amazingly, the two molecules could be relatively...
The Magnificent Quantum Laboratory
Published: 08-08-2013
Because quantum mechanics is crucial to understanding the behavior of everything in the Universe, one can understand key elements of the behavior of a neutron star by investigating the behavior of an atomic system in the laboratory. This is the promise of the new quantum simulator in the Ye labs. It is a fully controllable quantum system that is being used as a laboratory to study the behavior of other less controllable and more poorly understood quantum systems. Most people would imagine such...
Life in the Fast Lane
Published: 07-26-2013
Many people are familiar with the beautiful harmonies created when two sound waves interfere with each other, producing a periodic and repeating pattern that is music to our ears. In a similar fashion, two interfering x-ray waves may soon make it possible to create the fastest possible strobe light ever made. This strobe light will blink fast enough to allow researchers to study the nuclei of atoms and other incredibly tiny structures. The new strobe light is actually very fast coherent laser-...
Quantum Legoland
Published: 07-01-2013
The quantum world is not quite as mysterious as we thought it was. It turns out that there are highways into understanding this strange universe. And, graduate students Minghui Xu and David Tieri with Fellow Murray Holland have just discovered one such superhighway that has been around since the 1950s. Traveling along this superhighway has made it possible to understand the quantum behavior of hundreds of atoms inside every laser used in JILA, including the superradiant laser in the Thompson...
Trapper Marmot and the Stone Cold Molecules
Published: 04-01-2013
The Ye group has opened a new gateway into the relatively unexplored terrain of ultracold chemistry. Research associate Matt Hummon, graduate students Mark Yeo and Alejandra Collopy, newly minted Ph.D. Ben Stuhl, Fellow Jun Ye, and a visiting colleague Yong Xia (East China Normal University) have built a magneto-optical trap (MOT) for yttrium oxide (YO) molecules (Figure 1). The two-dimensional MOT uses three lasers and carefully adjusted magnetic fields to partially confine, concentrate, and...
The Transporter
Published: 03-15-2013
The Lehnert group has come up with a clever way to transport and store quantum information. Research associate Tauno Palomaki, graduate student Jennifer Harlow, NIST colleagues Jon Teufel and Ray Simmonds, and Fellow Konrad Lehnert have encoded a quantum state onto an electric circuit and figured out how to transport the information from the circuit into a tiny mechanical drum, where is stored. Palomaki and his colleagues can retrieve the information by reconverting it into an electrical signal...
The Big Chill
Published: 12-19-2012
The Ye and Bohn groups have made a major advance in the quest to prepare “real-world” molecules at ultracold temperatures. As recently reported in Nature, graduate students Ben Stuhl and Mark Yeo, research associate Matt Hummon, and Fellow Jun Ye succeeded in cooling hydroxyl radical molecules (*OH) down to temperatures of no more than five thousandths of a degree above absolute zero (5mK). The final temperature of the experiment may well have been even lower because the group’s temperature...
The Heart of Darkness
Published: 12-18-2012
When the Thompson group first demonstrated its innovative “superradiant” laser the team noticed that sometimes the amount of light emitted by the laser would fluctuate up and down.  The researchers wondered what was causing these fluctuations. They were especially concerned that whatever it was could also be a problem in future lasers based on the same principles. In the group’s superradiant laser, a million laser-cooled rubidium atoms at the heart of the laser act as the primary repository of...
The Amazing Plasmon
Published: 12-12-2012
The Nesbitt group has figured out the central role of “plasmon resonances” in light-induced emission of electrons from gold or silver nanoparticles. Plasmons are rapid-fire electron oscillations of freely moving (conduction) electrons in metals. They are caused by light of just the “right frequency.” In metal nanoparticles, the right frequency exquisitely depends on the shape of the particle as well as its size and material. Master glass blowers actually figured this out during the Middle Ages...
The Most Stable Clock in the World
Published: 12-05-2012
The world’s most stable optical atomic clock resides in the Ye lab in the basement of JILA’s S-Wing. The strontium-(Sr-)lattice clock is so stable that its frequency measurements don’t vary by more than 1 part in 100 quadrillion (1 x 10-17) over a time period of 1000 seconds, or 17 minutes. This impressive result was obtained by lead graduate student Travis Nicholson, graduate students Mike Martin, Ben Bloom, Mike Bishof, and Sara Campbell, research associate Jason Williams, former senior...
The Entanglement Tango
Published: 12-05-2012
Most scientists think it is really hard to correlate, or entangle, the quantum spin states of many particles in an ultracold gas of fermions. Fermions are particles like electrons (and some atoms and molecules) whose quantum spin states prevent them from occupying the same lowest-energy state and forming a Bose-Einstein condensate. Entanglement means that two or more particles interact and retain a connection. Once particles are entangled, if something changes in one of them, all linked...
Everything's Cool with Atom
Published: 11-29-2012
The Regal group recently completed a nifty feat that had never been done before: The researchers grabbed onto a single trapped rubidium atom (87Rb) and placed it in its quantum ground state. This experiment has identified an important source of cold atoms that can be arbitrarily manipulated for investigations of quantum simulations and quantum logic gates in future high-speed computers. Here’s how graduate students Adam Kaufman and Brian Lester and Fellow Cindy Regal did it: First, the...
Scratching the Surface
Published: 10-08-2012
Members of the Jin group found a way to measure for the first time the a type of abstract “surface” in a gas of ultracold atoms that had been predicted in 1926 but not previously observed. Jin and her colleagues are leading researchers in the field of ultracold Fermi gases made up of thousands to millions of fermions. Fermions, including electrons and some types of atoms such as potassium (40K), cannot occupy exactly the same quantum state. This property leads to a unique distribution of...
New Silicon Cavity Silences Laser Noise
Published: 09-12-2012
Researchers from a German national laboratory, the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) have collaborated with Fellow Jun Ye, Visiting Fellow Lisheng Chen (Wuhan Institute of Physics and Mathematics, Chinese Academy of Sciences), and graduate student Mike Martin to come up with a clever approach to reducing heat-related “noise” in interferometers. Interferometers are widely used measurement tools in optical atomic clocks, astronomy, and spectroscopy. Their thermal noise is due to...
New Flavors of Quantum Magnetism
Published: 05-24-2012
News Flash!  The Rey group has discovered another good reason for using alkaline-earth atoms, such as strontium (Sr) or Ytterbium (Yb), in experimental quantum simulators. Quantum simulators are systems that mimic interesting materials or mathematical models in a very controlled way. The new reason for using alkaline earth atoms in such systems comes from the fact that their nuclei come in as many as 10 different magnetic flavors, i.e., their spins can be in 10 different quantum states. When...
The Laser with Perfect Pitch
Published: 04-04-2012
The Thompson group, with theory help from the Holland group, recently demonstrated a superradiant laser that escapes the “echo chamber” problem that limits the best lasers. To understand this problem, imagine an opera singer practicing in an echo chamber. The singer hears his own voice echo from the walls of the room. He constantly adjusts his pitch to match that of his echo from some time before. But, if the walls of the room vibrate, then the singer’s echo will be shifted in pitch after...
The Secret Life of Magnets
Published: 03-15-2012
The Kapteyn/Murnane group and scientists from NIST Boulder and Germany have figured out how the interaction of an ultrafast laser with a metal alloy of iron and nickel destroys the metal’s magnetism. In a recent experiment, the researchers were able to observe how individual bits of quantum mechanical magnetization known as “spin” behaved after the metal was heated with the laser. The researchers included newly minted Ph. D. Chan La-o-vorakiat, former research associates Stefan Mathias and...
The Quantum Drum Song
Published: 02-23-2012
Fellows Konrad Lehnert and Cindy Regal are collaborating on an ambitious undertaking to explore the quantum behavior of tiny mechanical systems that are large enough to be visible to the naked eye (as opposed to systems exhibiting quantum behavior that are no bigger than a few tens of atoms). At the same time, they have been looking for ways to prolong vibrations in mechanical objects such as drums or strings. Prolonging vibrations makes it possible to laser cool objects to temperatures where...
Variation on an Infinity of Triangles
Published: 02-21-2012
The Greene group has just discovered some weird quantum states of ultracold fermions that are also dipoles. Dipoles are particles with small positively and negatively charged ends. Atoms (or molecules) that are fermions cannot occupy the same quantum state — unlike the neighborly bosons that readily occupy the same state and form Bose-Einstein condensates at ultracold temperatures. The new theoretical study was interesting because it explored what would happen to dipolar fermions under the...
The Indomitable Ruler of Light
Published: 02-02-2012
The Ye group has created the world’s first “ruler of light” in the extreme ultraviolet (XUV). The new ruler is also known more formally as the XUV frequency comb. The comb consists of hundreds of equally spaced “colors” that function in precision measurement like the tics on an ordinary ruler. The amazing thing about this ruler is that XUV colors have such short wavelengths they aren’t even visible to the human eye. The wavelengths of the XUV colors range from about 120 nm to about 50 nm — far...
No free lunch for entangled particles
Published: 01-26-2012
Incredibly sensitive measurements can be made using particles that are correlated in a special way (called entanglement.)  Entanglement is one of the spooky properties of quantum mechanics – two particles interact and retain a connection, even if separated by huge distances.  If you do something to one of the particles, its linked partners will also respond. However, entangled quantum states are notoriously fragile.  This fragility is an inherent part of their nature. Even so, a recent...
Schrödinger Cats Light the Way
Published: 01-13-2012
We can get valuable information about a material by studying how it responds to light.  But up to now, researchers have been forced to ignore how some of light’s stranger quantum behavior, such as being in a superposition of one or more intensity states, affects these measurements.  New research from the Cundiff group (with newly minted PhD Ryan Smith and graduate student Andy Hunter) has shown that it is possible to back-calculate how a semiconductor responds to light’s quantum features even...
Quantum Body Swapping
Published: 10-28-2011
There's something happenin’ here, what it is ain’t exactly clear -- Buffalo Springfield Theorists Norio Takemoto (now at the Weizmann Institute of Science) and Fellow Andreas Becker figured that something was amiss when they first analyzed the details of what occurs when an ultrafast laser dislodges an electron from a “simple” molecular ion, H2+. Since H2+ has already lost one of its electrons, its two protons only have one electron left to play with.  How hard would it be to “see” what...
Cross-Cultural Spectroscopy
Published: 10-19-2011
Graduate student Jennifer Lubbeck (Jimenez Group) spent the summer of 2011 doing research in the Molecular Spectroscopy Laboratory at the RIKEN Institute in Wako, Japan (near Tokyo). Her host's group included 16 postdocs and four graduate students (Figure 1). The group was under the direction of Chief Scientist Tahei Tahara. However, Lubbeck actually worked directly with just five other young scientists under the supervision of Professor Kunihiko Ishi (Ishi-san). “I was able to learn ultrafast...

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