Building Complex Matter from the Ground Up

JILA-PFC investigators want to find answers to the deceptively simple question: How do complex behaviors emerge from simple constituents and their interactions? Answering this question requires an understanding of quantum systems more complex than single atoms or simple molecules. It also requires a profound exploration of quantum behaviors such as entanglement, in which particles or fields that are entangled respond to each other in a predictable way even over long distances.

The activity of building quantum matter from the ground up focuses on behaviors that arise in quantum systems assembled from ultracold atoms and molecules. A detailed understanding of such behaviors promises to lead to a better understanding of the physics of liquids and solids, i.e., condensed matter physics. Researchers are currently exploring the boundary between ultracold gases and liquids, using precision measurement tools to probe a complex quantum spin system in a Sr-lattice optical atomic clock, studying magnetism in ultracold atomic and molecular gases, and creating novel states of quantum matter via long-range interactions in a gas of ultracold polar molecules of potassium-rubidium (KRb). The KRb experiment and the Sr-lattice clock are both being developed as quantum simulators to test theories about the behavior of the small, cold, and mysterious quantum world.

In related work, other JILA PFC researchers are studying new ways to control chemical reactions of simple molecules, engineering the electronic structure of graphene using atomic lattices and light, investigating the quantum behavior of semiconductors, and creating small quantum systems such as single atoms in optical tweezers. In all these studies, researchers focus on attaining exquisite control of a complex quantum system.


  • Ana Maria Rey
  • Cindy Regal
  • Deborah Jin
  • Eric Cornell
  • Henry Kapteyn
  • John Bohn
  • Jun Ye
  • Margaret Murnane
  • Murray Holland
  • Steven Cundiff