News & Research Highlights

Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Life After JILA: Tanya Ramond
Published: May 20, 2024

While industry and academia tend to be the two main job trajectories after graduating with a Ph.D. or postdoctoral degree, some individuals, like Tanya Ramond, combine aspects of these careers in her role as Founder and CEO of Sapienne Consulting

“As an independent consultant, I am driven by a deep passion for commercialization and product strategy in deep tech areas,” Ramond elaborates. “These areas of technology are particularly challenging, often hardware-based, and heavily reliant on intellectual property. My expertise and enthusiasm extend to fields like quantum physics, optics, aerospace, and clean tech, inspiring those around me to push the boundaries of what is possible.” 

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Investigators: W. Carl Lineberger
Physics Education | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA Participates in the Inaugural NSF Quantum Showcase on Capitol Hill
Published: May 13, 2024

To highlight the pivotal role of federal funding in advancing quantum research, the National Science Foundation (NSF) hosted its inaugural Quantum Showcase on Capitol Hill two weeks ago.  The event highlighted the potential of government-funded quantum initiatives and included NSF-funded quantum researchers nationwide. JILA, a joint institute between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST, was represented at the event by JILA Fellow and University of Colorado Boulder Physics Professor Heather Lewandowski and JILA graduate student Qizhong Liang, a member of JILA and NIST Fellow Jun Ye’s research group. 

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Investigators: Heather Lewandowski
Laser Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
The Interference of Many Atoms, and a New Approach to Boson Sampling
Published: May 07, 2024

In daily life, when two objects are “indistinguishable,” it’s due to an imperfect state of knowledge. As a street magician scrambles the cups and balls, you could, in principle, keep track of which ball is which as they are passed between the cups. However, at the smallest scales in nature, even the magician cannot tell one ball from another. True indistinguishability of this type can fundamentally alter how the balls behave. For example, in a classic experiment by Hong, Ou, and Mandel, two identical photons (balls) striking opposite sides of a half-reflective mirror are always found to exit from the same side of the mirror (in the same cup). This results from a special kind of interference, not any interaction between the photons. With more photons, and more mirrors, this interference becomes enormously complicated.

Measuring the pattern of photons that emerges from a given maze of mirrors is known as “boson sampling.” Boson sampling is believed to be infeasible to simulate on a classical computer for more than a few tens of photons. As a result, there has been a significant effort to perform such experiments with actual photons and demonstrate that a quantum device is performing a specific computational task that cannot be performed classically. This effort has culminated in recent claims of quantum advantage using photons.

Now, in a recently published Nature paper, JILA Fellow and NIST Physicist and University of Colorado Boulder Physics Professor Adam Kaufman and his team, along with collaborators at NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology), have demonstrated a novel method of boson sampling using ultracold atoms (specifically, bosonic atoms) in a two-dimensional optical lattice of intersecting laser beams. 

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Investigators: Adam Kaufman
JILA Fellow and University of Colorado Boulder Physics professor John Bohn and JILA and NIST Fellow and University of Colorado Boulder Physics Professor Eric Cornell are awarded 2024 Physics Department Teaching Awards
Published: May 01, 2024

JILA and the University of Colorado Boulder's Department of Physics proudly announce two 2024 Physics Department Teaching Award recipients: JILA Fellow and NIST Fellow and Professor Eric Cornell and JILA Fellow and  Professor John Bohn. These awards recognize their exceptional dedication to teaching and their profound impact on students at different levels of their academic journey.

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Investigators: John Bohn | Eric Cornell
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Twisting and Binding Matter Waves with Photons in a Cavity
Published: April 28, 2024

Precisely measuring the energy states of individual atoms has been a historical challenge for physicists due to atomic recoil. When an atom interacts with a photon, the atom “recoils” in the opposite direction, making it difficult to measure the position and momentum of the atom precisely. This recoil can have big implications for quantum sensing, which detects minute changes in parameters, for example, using changes in gravitational waves to determine the shape of the Earth or even detect dark matter. 

In a new paper published in the Science, JILA and NIST Fellows Ana Maria Rey and James Thompson, JILA Fellow Murray Holland, and their teams proposed a way to overcome this atomic recoil by demonstrating a new type of atomic interaction called momentum-exchange interaction, where atoms exchanged their momentums by exchanging corresponding photons. 

Using a cavity—an enclosed space composed of mirrors—the researchers observed that the atomic recoil was dampened by atoms exchanging energy states within the confined space. This process created a collective absorption of energy and dispersed the recoil among the entire population of particles.

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Investigators: Ana Maria Rey | James Thompson | Murray Holland
Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA Undergraduate Research Assistant Luke Coffman Awarded Prestigious Goldwater Scholarship
Published: April 22, 2024

Luke Coffman, a dedicated undergraduate research assistant at JILA, part of the University of Colorado Boulder, has been awarded the prestigious Goldwater Scholarship for the 2024 academic year. This award places Coffman among a select group of 438 students nationwide recognized for their significant achievements and potential in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics research.

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Investigators: Graeme Smith
Astrophysics | Chemical Physics | Laser Physics
Cold Coulomb Crystals, Cosmic Clues: Unraveling the Mysteries of Space Chemistry
Published: April 16, 2024

While it may not look like it, the interstellar space between stars is far from empty. Atoms, ions, molecules, and more reside in this ethereal environment known as the Interstellar Medium (ISM). The ISM has fascinated scientists for decades, as at least 200 unique molecules form in its cold, low-pressure environment. It’s a subject that ties together the fields of chemistry, physics, and astronomy, as scientists from each field work to determine what types of chemical reactions happen there. 

Now, in the recently published cover article of the Journal of Physical Chemistry A, JILA Fellow and University of Colorado Boulder Physics Professor Heather Lewandowski and former JILA graduate student Olivia Krohn highlight their work to mimic ISM conditions by using Coulomb crystals, a cold pseudo-crystalline structure, to watch ions and neutral molecules interact with each other. 

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Investigators: Heather Lewandowski
Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA Fellow Dana Anderson Speaks on Quantum Computing at the 2024 Conference of World Affairs
Published: April 11, 2024

At the 2024 Conference of World Affairs, held at the University of Colorado Boulder, two prominent figures in the Colorado quantum industry shared their insights into the rapidly evolving quantum technology landscape. Dana Anderson, a JILA Fellow, CU Boulder professor of Electrical Engineering, and the CSO of Infleqtion (previously ColdQuanta), joined forces with Corban Tillman-Dick, CEO and Founder of Maybell and chair of Elevate Quantum, a consortium of over 80 quantum-focused companies in Colorado.

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Investigators: Dana Anderson
Physics Education
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA and the University of Colorado Boulder Lead Pioneering Quantum Gravity Research with Heising-Simons Foundation Grant
Published: February 27, 2024

The Heising-Simons Foundation's Science program has announced a generous grant of $3 million over three years, aimed at bolstering theoretical and experimental research efforts to bridge the realms of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical (AMO) physics with quantum gravity theories. Among the recipients, a notable grant was awarded to a multi-investigator collaboration spearheaded by the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) and JILA, a joint institute of CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). 

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Investigators: Ana Maria Rey | Adam Kaufman | James Thompson
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Squeezing in the Dark of a Superradiant Roller Coaster
Published: February 19, 2024

While atomic clocks are already the most precise timekeeping devices in the universe, physicists are working hard to improve their accuracy even further. One way is by leveraging spin-squeezed states in clock atoms. Spin-squeezed states are entangled states in which particles in the system conspire to cancel their intrinsic quantum noise. These states, therefore, offer great opportunities for quantum-enhanced metrology since they allow for more precise measurements. Yet, spin-squeezed states in the desired optical transitions with little outside noise have been hard to prepare and maintain. 

One particular way to generate a spin-squeezed state, or squeezing, is by placing the clock atoms into an optical cavity, a set of mirrors where light can bounce back and forth many times. In the cavity, atoms can synchronize their photon emissions and emit a burst of light far brighter than from any one atom alone, a phenomenon referred to as superradiance. Depending on how superradiance is used, it can lead to entanglement, or alternatively, it can instead disrupt the desired quantum state. 

In a prior study, done in a collaboration between JILA and NIST Fellows, Ana Maria Rey and James Thompson, the researchers discovered that multilevel atoms (with more than two internal energy states) offer unique opportunities to harness superradiant emission by instead inducing the atoms to cancel each other’s emissions and remain dark. 

Now, reported in a pair of new papers published in Physical Review Letters and Physical Review A, Rey and her team discovered a method for how to not only create dark states in a cavity, but more importantly, make these states spin squeezed. Their findings could open remarkable opportunities for generating entangled clocks, which could push the frontier of quantum metrology in a fascinating way. 

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Investigators: Ana Maria Rey
Biophysics | Other
Probing Proton Pumping: New Findings on Protein Folding in bacteriorhodopsin (bR)
Published: February 05, 2024

When it comes to drug development, membrane proteins play a crucial role, with about 50% of drugs targeting these molecules. Understanding the function of these membrane proteins, which connect to the membranes of cells, is important for designing the next line of powerful drugs. To do this, scientists study model proteins, such as bacteriorhodopsin (bR), which, when triggered by light, pump protons across the membrane of cells. 

While bR has been studied for half a century, physicists have recently developed techniques to observe its folding mechanisms and energetics in the native environment of the cell’s lipid bilayer membrane. In a new study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), JILA and NIST Fellow Thomas Perkins and his team advanced these methods by combining atomic force microscopy (AFM), a conventional nanoscience measurement tool, with precisely timed light triggers to study the functionality of the protein function in real-time. 

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Investigators: Thomas Perkins
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Dipole-Dipole Interactions: Observing A New Clock Systematic Shift
Published: January 26, 2024

In a new study published in Science today, JILA and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) Fellow and University of Colorado Boulder physics professor Jun Ye and his research team have taken a significant step in understanding the intricate and collective light-atom interactions within atomic clocks, the most precise clocks in the universe. 

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Investigators: Jun Ye
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
B-C-S—Easy as I, II, III: Unveiling Dynamic Superconductivity
Published: January 24, 2024

In physics, scientists have been fascinated by the mysterious behavior of superconductors—materials that can conduct electricity with zero resistance when cooled to extremely low temperatures. Within these superconducting systems, electrons team up in “Cooper pairs” because they're attracted to each other due to vibrations in the material called phonons. 

As a thermodynamic phase of matter, superconductors typically exist in an equilibrium state. But recently, researchers at JILA became interested in kicking these materials into excited states and exploring the ensuing dynamics. As reported in a new Nature paper, the theory and experiment teams of JILA and NIST Fellows Ana Maria Rey and James K. Thompson, in collaboration with Prof. Robert Lewis-Swan at the University of Oklahoma, simulated superconductivity under such excited conditions using an atom-cavity system. 

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Investigators: Ana Maria Rey | James Thompson
Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA Fellow Murray Holland awarded a Translational Quantum Research Seed Grant Administered by CU Boulder
Published: January 23, 2024

CU Boulder has proudly announced the winners of its prestigious 2023-2024 Translational Quantum Research Seed Grants, a crucial step in fostering quantum science and technology innovation. This year's selection includes JILA Fellow Murray Holland, a distinguished figure in the field of quantum physics, who has been recognized for his groundbreaking project, "Developing a strontium optical lattice atom interferometer."

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Investigators: Murray Holland
Laser Physics | Precision Measurement
Building on JILA’s Legacy of Laser Precision
Published: January 12, 2024

Within atomic and laser physics communities, scientist John “Jan” Hall is a key figure in the history of laser frequency stabilization and precision measurement using lasers. Hall's work revolved around understanding and manipulating stable lasers in ways that were revolutionary for their time. His work laid a technical foundation for measuring a tiny fractional distance change brought by a passing gravitational wave. His work in laser arrays awarded him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005

Building on this foundation, JILA and NIST Fellow Jun Ye and his team embarked on an ambitious journey to push the boundaries of precision measurement even further. This time, their focus turned to a specialized technique known as the Pound-Drever-Hall (PDH) method (developed by scientists R. V. Pound, Ronald Drever, and Jan Hall himself), which plays a large role in precision optical interferometry and laser frequency stabilization.

While physicists have used the PDH method for decades in ensuring their laser frequency is stably “locked” to an artificial or quantum reference, a limitation arising from the frequency modulation process itself, called residual amplitude modulation (RAM), can still affect the stability and accuracy of the laser’s measurements. 

In a new Optica paper, Ye’s team, working with JILA electronic staff member Ivan Ryger and Hall, describe implementing a new approach for the PDH method, reducing RAM to never-before-seen minimal levels while simultaneously making the system more robust and simpler. 

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Investigators: Jun Ye | John Hall
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Quantum Information Science & Technology
The Tale of Two Clocks: Advancing the Precision of Timekeeping
Published: January 11, 2024

Historically, JILA (a joint institute established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado Boulder) has been a world leader in precision timekeeping using optical atomic clocks. These clocks harness the intrinsic properties of atoms to measure time with unparalleled precision and accuracy, representing a significant leap in our quest to quantify the most elusive of dimensions: time.

However, the precision of these clocks has fundamental limits, including the “noise floor,” which is affected by the “quantum projection noise” (QPN). “This comes from the spin-statistics of the individual qubits, the truly quantum nature of the atoms being probed,” elaborated JILA graduate student Maya Miklos. State-of-the-art clock comparisons, like those directed by JILA and NIST Fellow and University of Colorado Boulder Physics professor Jun Ye, are pushing ever closer to this fundamental noise floor limit. However, this limit can be circumvented by generating quantum entanglement in the atomic samples, boosting their stability.

Now, Ye’s team, in collaboration with JILA and NIST Fellow James K. Thompson, has used a specific process known as spin squeezing to generate quantum entanglement, resulting in an enhancement in clock performance operating at the 10-17stability level. Their novel experimental setup, published in Nature Physics, also allowed the researchers to directly compare two independent spin-squeezed ensembles to understand this level of precision in time measurement, a level never before reached with a spin-squeezed optical lattice clock. 

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Investigators: Jun Ye | James Thompson
Laser Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Groundbreaking "Tabletop" Physics Experiments Receive Major Funding, with JILA and NIST Fellow Jun Ye Leading Key Project
Published: December 11, 2023

In an exciting turn for physics research, four major foundations have announced a collaborative funding effort for 11 pioneering "tabletop" experiments. The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Simons Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the John Templeton Foundation have come together, committing a total of $30 million. This unique initiative focuses on supporting experiments that, despite their relatively modest scale, are set to delve into areas often reserved for large-scale facilities.

Among the funded projects, each of which will receive up to five years of financial support, is a particularly notable experiment led by JILA and NIST Fellow Jun Ye and his research team. Known for his remarkable work in physics, Ye's project stands out for its ambition and innovative approach. The experiment involves the development of ultra-precise atomic clocks, which are expected to significantly advance our understanding of both quantum mechanics and general relativity.

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Investigators: Jun Ye
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA Graduate Student Anjun Chu Wins Prestigious Boeing Quantum Creators Prize
Published: November 17, 2023

Anjun Chu, a JILA graduate student, has been awarded the esteemed Boeing Quantum Creators Prize for 2023. This prestigious award, established by Boeing in 2021, celebrates early-career researchers who have significantly contributed to the advancement of quantum information science and engineering.

Chu, a member of the theory group led by JILA and NIST Fellow Ana Maria Rey, has distinguished himself through his groundbreaking research in quantum many-body dynamics. His work, focusing on spin systems and their multilevel extensions, has been vital in exploring quantum simulation and metrology in cutting-edge areas like optical lattice clocks and cavity QED systems.

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Investigators: Ana Maria Rey
Laser Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Creating the “Goldilocks” Zone: Making Special-Shaped Light
Published: November 16, 2023

In a new study published in Scientific Reports, JILA Fellow and University of Colorado Boulder physics professor Andreas Becker and his team theorized a new method to produce extreme ultraviolet (EUV) and x-ray light with elliptical polarization, a special shape in which the direction of light waves’ oscillation is changing. This method could provide experimentalists with a simple technique to generate such light, which is beneficial for physicists to further understand the interactions between electrons in materials on the quantum level, paving the way for designing better electronic devices such as circuit boards, solar panels, and more.

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Investigators: Andreas Becker