News & Highlights

Research Highlights

NIST Team Compares 3 Top Atomic Clocks With Record Accuracy Over Both Fiber and Air
Published: 03-24-2021
In a significant advance toward the future redefinition of the international unit of time, the second, a research team led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has compared three of the world’s leading atomic clocks with record accuracy over both air and optical fiber links. Described in the March 25 issue of Nature, the NIST-led work is the first to compare three clocks, based on different atoms, and the first to link the most advanced atomic clocks in different...

The Forces involved in Folding Proteins
Published: 03-22-2021
Washing your hands after cracking an egg or touching raw chicken may seem common sense, as the possible resulting bacterial infections have been thoroughly studied. Yet, researchers at JILA have found something surprising and ground-breaking about the physics of bacterial infections. In a new paper, JILA physicist Thomas Perkins collaborated with CU Biochemistry Prof. Marcello Sousa to dissect the mechanisms of how certain bacteria become more virulent. The research brings together the Perkins...

Molecules in Flat Lands: an Entanglement Paradise
Published: 03-18-2021
Within the realm of quantum mechanics, the generation of quantum entanglement remains one of the most challenging goals. Entanglement, simply put, is when the quantum state of each particle or a group of particles is not independent of the quantum states of other particles or groups, even over long distances. Entangled particles have always fascinated physicists, as measuring one entangled particle can result in a change in another entangled particle, famously dismissed as “spooky action at a...

Using Quantum Knots to Build a Secure Internet
Published: 03-01-2021
In this era of the pandemic, the amount of internet hacking has increased dramatically. Hackers threaten our security, taking information before anyone realizes the network has been compromised. These threats are serious and require creative and immediate action to resolve. For scientists at JILA, a quantum internet is a way to resolve these actions. Essentially, a quantum internet connects different quantum computers or different quantum users into a network to achieve coordinated quantum...

Scientists develop new, faster method for seeking out dark matter
Published: 02-11-2021
For nearly a century, scientists have worked to unravel the mystery of dark matter—an elusive substance that spreads through the universe and likely makes up much of its mass, but has so far proven impossible to detect in experiments. Now, a team of researchers have used an innovative technique called “quantum squeezing” to dramatically speed up the search for one candidate for dark matter in the lab.  The findings, published today in the journal Nature, center on an incredibly lightweight and...

Tweezing a New Kind of Atomic Clock
Published: 12-16-2020
Atoms are tricky to control. They can zip around, or even tunnel out of their containment. In order for new precision measurement tools and quantum devices to work—and work well—scientists need to be able to control and manipulate atoms as precisely as possible. That’s especially true for optical atomic clocks. In these clocks, a cold, excited atom’s electrons swing back and forth in what’s called a dipole, vibrating like a plucked string. Scientists rapidly count those swings with a laser,...

JILA’s Electric ‘Knob’ Tunes Chemical Reaction Rates in Quantum Gas
Published: 12-10-2020
Building on their newfound ability to induce molecules in ultracold gases to interact with each other over long distances, JILA researchers have used an electric “knob” to influence molecular collisions and dramatically raise or lower chemical reaction rates. These super-chilly gases follow the seemingly counterintuitive rules of quantum mechanics, featuring exact units, or quanta, of energy and often-exotic motions. Thus, the ability to control chemical reactions in stable quantum gases could...

New JILA Tools ‘Turn On’ Quantum Gases of Ultracold Molecules
Published: 12-09-2020
JILA researchers have developed tools to “turn on” quantum gases of ultracold molecules, gaining control of long-distance molecular interactions for potential applications such as encoding data for quantum computing and simulations. The new scheme for nudging a molecular gas down to its lowest energy state, called quantum degeneracy, while suppressing chemical reactions that break up molecules finally makes it possible to explore exotic quantum states in which all the molecules interact with...

Advanced Atomic Clock Makes a Better Dark Matter Detector
Published: 11-30-2020
JILA researchers have used a state-of-the-art atomic clock to narrow the search for elusive dark matter, an example of how continual improvements in clocks have value beyond timekeeping. Older atomic clocks operating at microwave frequencies have hunted for dark matter before, but this is the first time a newer clock, operating at higher optical frequencies, and an ultra-stable oscillator to ensure steady light waves have been harnessed to set more precise bounds on the search. The research is...

Measuring Spinning Donuts
Published: 11-04-2020
Atoms are busy objects. Electrons whiz around the nucleus of the atom in attoseconds—quintillionths of a second. Those electrons can be orbiting farther out from the nucleus in an excited state, close to the nucleus in the lowest energy level called a ground state, or in a superposition—in two or more energy levels at once.  During ionization, some of those electrons will fly away from the atom. The direction and path those electrons take can tell scientists a lot about the state the atom was...

Electron Fly-Bys on the Chemical Reaction Pathway
Published: 11-02-2020
In chemistry, the shape of a molecule matters. Different arrangements of the same molecule are called isomers, and scientists have spent decades pondering how that shape affects chemical reactions. Molecules react, bond, and separate along a reaction pathway, twisting into different shapes and combinations before delivering their final products. Tracking that pathway, especially with two molecules that are otherwise identical, is extremely complicated for theorists and experimentalists alike—...

Now Hiring: The New Quantum Workforce
Published: 10-29-2020
Scientists believe we are living in the Second Quantum Revolution, a period of rapid advances in technology based on discoveries in quantum science. Companies from giants like IBM and Google to small startups are eager to create and perfect these new quantum technologies—and that requires training a new kind of workforce. Universities are currently adapting their curriculum to prepare their students to enter that workforce. But what exactly do these jobs require? What kind of work is out there...

The Rules of Photon Thunderdome
Published: 10-05-2020
When it comes to photoluminescence, the rules for most materials are simple: shine a photon on the material, and one photon comes out. Other materials take some coaxing—shine two photons in and get a shorter wavelength photon out in a process called upconversion photoluminescence, or UCPL. Many organic materials require a chemical sensitizer to get that upconversion photoluminescence—except for rubrene. This orange-tinted organic crystal can perform this upconversion photoluminescence process...

Total Ellipse of the SU(N)
Published: 09-11-2020
There was something odd going on with the SU(N) fermions in the Ye Lab. Normally, when a noninteracting Fermi gas of atoms is released from a trap, it expands isotropically. The atoms' pent-up kinetic energy sends them shooting away from each other in a ballistic expansion, forming a round, spherical pattern—that shape reflects the isotropic momentum distribution of the trapped gas. But with the SU(N) fermions, the Ye Group saw an anisotropic cloud—an ellipse, not a sphere. "We were like, 'what...

Grabbing Proteins by the Tail
Published: 08-11-2020
Cells are surrounded by a membrane containing carefully folded proteins. Those membrane proteins interact with the watery environment inside and outside the cell and the fatty environment of the membrane that keeps the inside and the outside of the cell separated. That gives them an important role-they are how the inside of the cell talks to the outside of the cell, allowing viruses to attack or letting in medications to treat disease, said David Jacobson, a post-doc in the Perkins Group at...

What to Know if You’re Teaching Physics Labs Remotely
Published: 08-05-2020
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world, professors had to pivot their lab courses quickly —sometimes in a matter of hours—to work remotely. Physicist and physics education researcher JILA Fellow Heather Lewandowski began getting questions from instructors around the country: how do you teach a laboratory class when you can’t be in the lab? Lewandowski received an NSF RAPID Grant to answer this question, and did what scientists do best: she gathered data. She received 106 survey responses from...

Falling Dominos and an Army of Schrödinger’s Cats
Published: 07-07-2020
Schrödinger’s Cat is one of the most famous thought experiments in quantum mechanics. Physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment goes like this: suppose you have a cat sealed in a box with a contraption that may or may not go off to release a poison. The only way to confirm the cat’s fate is to open the box. Until the box is opened, the cat is both alive and dead. Being in a superposition of two states at a time is an intrinsic property of quantum objects like atoms which, for example,...

The Sisyphean Task of Cooling Molecules
Published: 06-03-2020
If you want to control the quantum world, it helps to make things really cold—like a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero. When atoms reach those ultracold temperatures, they slow down and scientists can better probe them and study their interactions. Ultracold atoms have been well-explored for decades, and are the basis for precision metrology tools like atomic clocks. With dense collections of ultracold atoms, physicists have been able to study how atoms interact, leading to new...

Phases on the Move: A Quantum Game of Catch
Published: 04-29-2020
The world is out-of-equilibrium, said JILA Fellow Ana Maria Rey. All around us systems are constantly in flux, from our living bodies to the weather and the stock market. These systems aren't settled in a final state. Equilibrium systems are stationary; they don't change in time, said JILA Fellow James Thompson. And after a hundred years of research, we have developed tools to understand what happens in a system at equilibrium, Rey added. But when it comes to understanding an out-of-equilibrium...

Breathing Stars and the Most Beautiful Scalpel
Published: 04-07-2020
Look at any material on an atomic level and you see a dynamic world of interconnected atoms and electrons. Negatively-charged electrons throughout the material swarm around the positively-charged ions, and the electrostatic force between them holds the material together. At a nonzero temperature, the ions in the material vibrate around their equilibrium positions. Those collective vibrations are called phonons. As the ions move, the electron cloud—as well as its quantum properties—sways...

Playing Games with Quantum Entanglement
Published: 03-20-2020
When you text your friends across the city, you aren’t sending messages directly to each other. Your phones send signals to the nearby cell phone tower, which takes all of these signals and redistributes them to the proper recipients. This basic setup—multiple senders transmitting to one recipient—is known as a multiple access channel or MAC. And if you’ve had to wait impatiently for the network to send a five-minute video of your adorable cat, you know that MACs have a fundamental limit on how...

Guiding Electrons With Gold Nanostars
Published: 03-13-2020
In nearly 80 years, computers have shrunk from electronic behemoths that filled 50-by-30-foot rooms to smartphones that fit in the palm of your hand. That’s largely because transistors have shrunk down to the nanoscale—ten to a hundred billionths of a meter, which is a thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair. Those transistors control current in computer chips; they store the binary 1s and 0s your computer uses to process information. But recently scientists have run into a...

Sorting the Glow from the Flow
Published: 03-02-2020
How do you find a single cell in sea of thousands? You make it glow. Adding fluorescence helps track movement and changes in small things like cells, DNA, and bacteria. In a library of millions of cells or bacteria, flow cytometry sorts the glowing material you want to study from the non-glowing material. In short, “it’s a fluorescence filter,” said Srijit Mukherjee, a graduate student in the Jimenez Lab at JILA. With the help of JILA’s electronics shop and clean room, the Jimenez Lab has found...

Drumming to the Heisenberg Beat
Published: 01-14-2020
“It's not noiseless but in principle it could be noiseless, and in practice it's approaching that limit.” - Robert Delaney At JILA, scientists work on mechanical oscillators which are the size of a grain of salt. They may be tiny, but they are the heartbeat of quantum technology, and are currently a promising technology for networking quantum computers.   “If you push on a mechanical oscillator, it's going to move,” said Robert Delaney, a graduate student in the Lehnert Lab. The oscillator...

The Power of the Dark Side
Published: 01-06-2020
"Dark states are stable and they do not decay. There is the possibility that they live forever." -Ana Maria Rey How long can a unique atomic state live? Atoms normally live in their ground state, where its electrons are sitting in their lowest possible orbits. But when the atoms are hit with some extra energy, their electrons are kicked into a higher energy level, orbiting further from the nucleus of the atom. That’s an excited state. Long-lived excited states are appealing to physicists for...

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