News & Research Highlights

Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA and NIST Fellow Adam Kaufman Wins Breakthrough New Horizons in Physics Prize
Published: September 22, 2022

Boulder, Colo. — Physicist Adam Kaufman of both JILA and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has been awarded the 2023 New Horizons in Physics Prize from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation for his work in advancing the control of atoms and molecules to improve atomic clocks and quantum information processing. 

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Investigators: Adam Kaufman
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA and NIST Fellow Ana Maria Rey Featured in "Optica Community" Piece
Published: September 22, 2022

How a woman from Colombia overcame obstacles to become a leading theoretical physicist and develop the world’s most accurate atomic clock. -From the "Optica Community" article

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Investigators: Ana Maria Rey
Quantum Information Science & Technology
Clearing Quantum Traffic Jams under the SU(n) of Symmetric Collisions
Published: September 15, 2022

Of all the atoms that quantum physicists study, alkaline atoms hold a special place due to their unique structure. Found in the second column of the periodic table, these atoms have two outer electrons, allowing the atoms to interact with one another in intriguing ways. “They have received a lot of attention in recent years among the physics community because of two reasons,” explained JILA and NIST Fellow Ana Maria Rey. “One is that they have a unique atomic structure, which makes them ideal for atomic clocks. This is because they have a long-lived electronic excited state that can live longer than 100 seconds. The second is that their electronic and nuclear spin degrees of freedom are highly decoupled and therefore the nuclear spins do not participate in the atomic collisions.”

Like planets orbiting the sun while rotating, an atom's electrons orbit the nucleus while spinning. The nucleus itself also spins, and this spin can be linked, or “coupled” to the electrons' spins. If the nuclear spin is coupled, it (indirectly) participates in collisions with other atoms. If it is not coupled (decoupled), the nuclear spin is uninvolved in these collisions. For decoupled nuclei, their properties give rise to a unique symmetry called SU(n) symmetry, where the strength of the interactions between the atoms is uninfluenced by what nuclear spins are involved in the collisions. “Here n corresponds to the number of nuclear spin states,” Rey added. “In an alkaline earth atom like strontium, it can be up to 10.” In a new paper published in PRX Quantum, Rey and her team of researchers proposed a new method for seeing the quantum effects enabled by SU(n) symmetry in current experimental conditions, something that has been historically challenging for physicists.

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Investigators: Ana Maria Rey
Quantum Information Science & Technology
Seeing Quantum Weirdness: Superposition, Entanglement, and Tunneling
Published: August 19, 2022

Quantum science promises a range of technological breakthroughs, such as quantum computers that can help discover new pharmaceuticals or quantum sensors for navigation. These capabilities rest on two unusual properties of quantum systems, superposition and entanglement. Just as a computer register stores information in the zeros or ones of classical bits, quantum bits, or qubits, store quantum information—but in the quantum world, superposition allows the qubit to be both a zero and a one at the same time. Furthermore, multiple qubits can be bizarrely correlated through a process called entanglement. When two qubits are entangled with each other, each qubit individually looks to be in a random state, but measuring one qubit reveals perfect information about its entangled partner. These properties of superposition and entanglement make qubits quite special, as they can work more efficiently than a classical computer’s bits.

However, a common challenge in actually using these quantum systems arises due to their limited memory time, or “coherence” time, which is often measured in milliseconds. Many researchers at JILA study and use superposition and entanglement of quantum systems, including JILA fellow Adam Kaufman. Previously, Kaufman and his research team focused on improving the coherence time of the strontium atoms’ superposition between the ground state and the “clock” state, so named because these two states form the basis for state-of-the-art atomic clocks. As reported in two new papers, researchers from this lab have extended these studies to much larger system sizes, with an atom in a superposition of hundreds of locations, and separately, demonstrating optical clock entanglement with seconds-scale coherence time.

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Related Publications: Ytterbium Nuclear-Spin Qubits in an Optical Tweezer ArrayInvestigators: Adam Kaufman
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement
Creating A Two-Step Dance for Lasers
Published: August 17, 2022

Lasers have not only fascinated scientists for decades, but they have also become an integral part of many electronic devices. To create scientific-grade lasers, physicists try to control the temporal, spatial, phase, and polarization properties of the laser beam’s pulse to be able to manipulate it. One of these properties is called the orbital angular momentum (OAM), and its phase, or shape, swirls as the doughnut-shaped laser beam travels through space. There are two types of OAM, spatial (S-OAM) and spatial-temporal (ST-OAM). S-OAM describes the angular momentum of the laser beam that is parallel to the light source's propagation direction. In contrast, ST-OAM has angular momentum that moves in a motion perpendicular to the light source’s  propagation direction, which creates a time component to the momentum  [1, 2].  Because of these differences, ST-OAM is more difficult to study due to this time component. According to senior scientist Dr. Chen-Ting Liao: “The problem is that ST-OAM is very difficult to see or measure. And if we can't see or measure this easily, there's no way we can fully understand and optimize it, let alone use it for potential future applications.” To try to overcome this difficulty, a collaboration led by Dr. Liao and other researchers, including JILA Fellows Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, worked out a method to image and better analyze ST-OAM beams. Their work was subsequently published in ACS Photonics and featured on the cover [3].

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Related Publications: Second harmonic generation from the Si/SiO2 interfaceInvestigators: Margaret Murnane | Henry Kapteyn
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA and NIST Researchers Develop Miniature Lens for Trapping Atoms
Published: August 01, 2022

JILA Fellow Cindy Regal and her team, along with researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), have for the first time demonstrated that they can trap single atoms using a novel miniaturized version of “optical tweezers” — a system that grabs atoms using a laser beam as chopsticks.

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Investigators: Cindy Regal
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Jun Ye is awarded the Department of Defense 2022 Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship
Published: July 13, 2022

The DoD announced today the selection of nine distinguished faculty scientists and engineers for the 2022 Class of Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellows (VBFF). This highly competitive Fellowship is named in honor of Dr. Vannevar Bush, who directed the Office of Scientific Research and Development after World War II. In line with Dr. Bush’s vision, the Fellowship aims to advance transformative, university-based fundamental research.

“The Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship is the Department’s most prestigious research grant award,” said Dr. Jean-Luc Cambier, the VBFF Program Director. “It is oriented towards bold and ambitious ‘blue sky’ research that will lead to extraordinary outcomes that may revolutionize entire disciplines, create entirely new fields, or disrupt accepted theories and perspectives.” JILA and NIST Fellow Jun Ye has been distinguished as one of the 2022 Fellows. 

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Investigators: Jun Ye
Astrophysics | Atomic & Molecular Physics | Biophysics
Celebrating 60 Years of JILA
Published: July 12, 2022

This year, JILA celebrates its 60th anniversary. Officially established on April 13, 1962, as a joint institution between the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), JILA has become a world leader in physics research. Its rich history includes three Nobel laureates, groundbreaking work in laser development, atomic clocks, underlying dedication to precision measurement, and even competitive sports leagues. The process of creating this science goliath was not always straightforward and took the dedication and hard work of many individuals.

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Investigators: John Hall | Judah Levine | Carl Wieman | Eric Cornell | Margaret Murnane | Henry Kapteyn | Jun Ye | Thomas Perkins | W. Carl Lineberger
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Connecting Microwave and Optical Frequencies through the Ground State of a Micromechanical Object
Published: June 23, 2022

The process of developing a quantum computer has seen significant progress in the past 20 years. Quantum computers are designed to solve complex problems using the intricacies of quantum mechanics. These computers can also communicate with each other by using entangled photons (photons that have connected quantum states). As a result of this entanglement, quantum communication can provide a more secure form of communication, and has been seen as a promising method for the future of a more private and faster internet.

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Investigators: Cindy Regal | Konrad Lehnert
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
New Research Reveals A More Robust Qubit System, even with a Stronger Laser Light
Published: June 15, 2022

Qubits are a basic building block for quantum computers, but they’re also notoriously fragile—tricky to observe without erasing their information in the process. Now, new research from CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) may be a leap forward for handling qubits with a light touch.  

In the study, a team of physicists demonstrated that it could read out the signals from a type of qubit called a superconducting qubit using laser light—and without destroying the qubit at the same time.

Artist's depiction of an electro-optic transducer, an ultra-thin wafer that can read out the information from a superconducting qubit.

Artist's depiction of an electro-optic transducer, an ultra-thin device that can capture and transform the signals coming from a superconducting qubit. (Credit: Steven Burrows/JILA)

The group’s results could be a major step toward building a quantum internet, the researchers say. Such a network would link up dozens or even hundreds of quantum chips, allowing engineers to solve problems that are beyond the reach of even the fastest supercomputers around today. They could also, theoretically, use a similar set of tools to send unbreakable codes over long distances. 

The study, published June 15 in the journal Nature, was led by JILA, a joint research institute between CU Boulder and NIST.

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Investigators: Cindy Regal | Konrad Lehnert
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
The University of Colorado's President Saliman Visits JILA
Published: May 23, 2022

University of Colorado President Todd Saliman visited JILA this past week and toured the laboratories at the invitation of JILA and NIST Fellow Eric Cornell.

Saliman was impressed by the research team and Fellows and applauded their work.

 

“You are all working to change the world,” President Saliman said.

 

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Investigators: Eric Cornell
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Life After JILA: Rabin Paudel
Published: May 20, 2022

Most, if not all, JILA alumni have found that their time at JILA has impacted their careers. Whether through working on cutting-edge research or networking with others, most JILA alumni have left the institution with essential skills needed for their future successes. This is the case for Dr. Rabin Paudel, who was a Senior Applications Engineer at Cymer/ASML, which is a Dutch multinational company that makes photolithography equipment used by semiconductor chipmakers. Since the writing of this article, Paudel has now started a new position at Intel Corporation.

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Investigators: Eric Cornell
Biophysics | Precision Measurement
Humans of JILA-Connor Thomas
Published: May 10, 2022

For some physics and math undergraduates, JILA has become a place to learn cutting-edge research while belonging to a community. That's what undergraduate Connor Thomas experienced. Though Thomas is graduating with a bachelor's in biochemistry and transitioning to a graduate program at MIT, he's been grateful for his time at JILA. "JILA has been a pretty fantastic community for me," Thomas said. "In particular, my lab has been great. They were really constant through COVID. I am definitely going to miss all of that."

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Investigators: Ralph Jimenez
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Tweezing a New Kind of Qubit
Published: May 04, 2022

JILA has a long history in quantum research, advancing the state of the art in the field as its Fellows study various quantum effects. One of these Fellowsis Adam Kaufman. Kaufman and his laboratory team work on quantum systems that are based on neutral atoms, investigating their capacities for quantum information storage and manipulation. The researchers utilize optical tweezers—arrays of highly focused laser beams which hold and move atoms—to study these systems. Optical tweezers allow researchers exquisite, single-particle experimental control. In a new paper published in Physical Review X, Kaufman and his team demonstrate that a specific isotope, ytterbium-171 (171Yb), has the capacity to store quantum information in decoherence-resistant (i.e., stable) nuclear qubits, allows for the ability to quickly manipulate the qubits, and finally, permits the production of such qubits in large, uniformly filled arrays. 

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Related Publications: Ytterbium nuclear-spin qubits in an optical tweezer arrayInvestigators: Adam Kaufman
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
An Atomic Game of Duck, Duck, Goose
Published: April 15, 2022

Physics has always been a science of rules. In many situations, these rules lead to clear and simple theoretical predictions which, nevertheless, are hard to observe in actual experimental settings where other confounding effects may obscure the desired phenomena. For JILA and NIST Fellows Ana Maria Rey and Jun Ye, one type of phenomena they are especially interested in observing are the interactions between light and atoms, especially those at the heart of the decay of an atom prepared in the excited state. “If you have an atom in the excited state, the atom will eventually decay to the ground state while emitting a photon,” explained Rey. “This process is called spontaneous emission.” The spontaneous emission rate can be manipulated by scientists, making it longer or shorter, depending on the experimental conditions. Many years ago it was predicted that one way to suppress or slow down spontaneous emission was by applying a special type of statistics known as Fermi statistics which prevents two identical fermions from being in the same quantum state, known as the Pauli Exclusion Principle

This principle is similar to a game of Duck, Duck, Goose, where two individuals fight over an open spot in a circle in order to avoid being “it.” Like children in this game, the atoms must find an empty quantum state to decay into. If they cannot find an empty state, interesting things begin to happen. “If an excited atom wants to decay, but the ground state is already filled, then the decay is “Pauli blocked” and the atom will stay in the excited state longer, or even forever,” Rey said. Nevertheless, the experimental observation of this effect happened to be challenging.  It was not until last year  that the Ye group observed Pauli blocking of radiation for the first time indirectly by measuring the light scattered by the atoms—but a direct observation of Pauli blocking by measuring  the lifetime of atoms in the steady state was lacking. More recently, Ye’s and Rey’s groups collaborated in a joint study, and were able to find an appropriate experimental setting where they were able to observe Pauli blocking of spontaneous emission by direct measurements of the excited state population. The results have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters. 

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Related Publications: Disentangling Pauli Blocking of Atomic Decay from Cooperative Radiation and Atomic Motion in a 2D Fermi GasInvestigators: Jun Ye | Ana Maria Rey
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Laser Physics | Precision Measurement
JILA W. M. Keck Lab receives CU Green Labs Program Award for shared research resources
Published: April 04, 2022

JILA W. M. Keck Lab has been selected to receive a CU Green Labs Program Award for the lab’s efforts for shared research resources. The annual CU Green Labs Awards Program started in 2015 to reward departments that work to make the campus' sustainability possible.  Awardees exemplify CU’s continuing efforts to become a sustainable institution. 

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Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Running in a Quantum Corn Maze and Getting Stuck in the Dark
Published: March 23, 2022

Light is emitted when an atom decays from an excited state to a lower energy ground state, with the emitted photon carrying away the energy.  The spontaneous emission of light is a fundamental process that originates from the interaction between matter and the  modes of the electromagnetic field—the background “hiss” of the universe that is all around us. However, spontaneous emission of light can limit the utility of atomic excited states for a wide array of scientific and technological applications, from probing the nature of the universe to inertial navigation. Understanding ways to alter or even engineer spontaneous emission has been an intriguing topic in science.  JILA Fellows Ana Maria Rey and James Thompson study ways to control light emission by placing atoms in an optical cavity, a resonator made of two mirrors between which light can bounce back and forth many times. Together, with JILA postdoc and first author Asier Piñeiro Orioli, they have predicted that when an array of multi-level atoms is placed in the cavity the atoms can all cooperate and collectively suppress their emission of light into the cavity. These findings were recently published in Physical Review X.

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Related Publications: A Superradiant Laser and Spin Squeezed States: Collective Phenomena in a Rubidium Cavity QED System for Enhancing Precision MeasurementsInvestigators: Ana Maria Rey | James Thompson
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Electrifying Molecular Interactions
Published: March 17, 2022

Worldwide, many researchers are interested in controlling atomic and molecular interactions. This includes JILA and NIST fellows Jun Ye and Ana Maria Rey, both of whom have spent years researching interacting potassium-rubidium (KRb) molecules, which were originally created in a collaboration between Ye and the late Deborah Jin. In the newest collaboration between the experimental (Ye) and theory (Rey) groups, the researchers have developed a new way to control two-dimensional gaseous layers of molecules, publishing their exciting new results in the journal Science.

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Related Publications: Enhanced optical and electric manipulation of a quantum gas of KRb moleculesInvestigators: Jun Ye | Ana Maria Rey
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Laser Physics | Precision Measurement
The Prime Suspect: Hot Band Absorption
Published: March 07, 2022

The hunt was afoot within the laboratory of JILA and NIST Fellow Ralph Jimenez as his team continued to unravel the mystery of entangled two-photon absorption. Entangled photons are pairs of light particles whose quantum states are not independent of each other, so they share aspects of their properties, such as their energies and angular momenta. For many years, these photons have been studied by physicists who are trying to create quantum networks and other technologies. The Jimenez lab has been researching whether entangled photons can excite molecules with greater, even super, efficiency as compared with normal photons. 


In a new paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, Jimenez and his team report a new experimental setup to search for the cause of a mysterious fluorescent signal that appears to be from entangled photon excitation. According to Jimenez: “We built a setup where you could use either a classical laser or entangled photons to look for fluorescence. And the reason we built it is to ask: ‘What is it that other people were seeing when they were claiming to see entangled photon-excited fluorescence?’ We saw no signal in our previous work published a year ago, headed by Kristen Parzuchowski. So now, we're wondering, people are seeing something, what could it possibly be? That was the detective work here.” The results of their new experiments suggested that hot-band absorption (HBA) by the subject molecules, could be the potential culprit for this mysterious fluorescent signal, making it the prime suspect. 

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Related Publications: Hot-Band Absorption Can Mimic Entangled Two-Photon AbsorptionInvestigators: Ralph Jimenez
Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA Fellow Heather Lewandowski joins ranks of President’s Teaching Scholars
Published: March 03, 2022

JILA Fellow Heather Lewandowski has been honored in the 2022  President’s Teaching Scholars Program (PTSP), which recognizes CU faculty who skillfully integrate teaching and research at an exceptional level. Lewandowski's laboratory focuses on both cold molecular physics and physics education research. Her physics education research program studies ways to increase students' proficiency in scientific practices such as using models and quantitative reasoning in experimental physics. 

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Investigators: Heather Lewandowski