News & Highlights

Research Highlights

Counting the quietest sounds in the universe
Published: 11-06-2019
In the Lehnert Lab at JILA, a qubit sits in a small copper box. The qubit itself would fit on your pinky nail. Using that qubit, graduate student Lucas Sletten can measure the quietest sound in the universe: individual phonons, the smallest particles that carry sound. This qubit is designed to help us answer two simple but profound questions: Can we control sound in a quantum way? And if so, what can we do with sound that we can’t do with light? “People have been curious about using sound as a...

Dancing through dynamical phase transitions in an out-of-equilibrium state
Published: 08-02-2019
In physics, it’s always easier to study a system in equilibrium. A system in equilibrium is neat and orderly, everything in balance. But the real world is rarely so perfectly balanced. “Life is out-of-equilibrium. The weather is out-of-equilibrium,” joked JILA Fellow Ana Maria Rey. When things are out-of-equilibrium, it’s hard to study a phenomenon called dynamical phase transitions. Phase transitions are ubiquitous in nature, like when water turns into ice, Rey explained. A dynamical phase...

Keep it steady
Published: 07-29-2019
"That's the difference between me sitting there and running my clock for an hour versus running my clock for ten hours." - Eric Oelker Imagine trying to read a clock with hands that wobble. The worse the wobble, the more difficult it is to accurately read the time. Optical atomic clocks have the same problem. An optical atomic clock uses a laser to measure the frequency of a collection of atoms in a lattice, the way a grandfather clock measures the frequency of a swinging pendulum to mark the...

DNA imaging, ready in five minutes
Published: 07-16-2019
Ready in five It turned out soaking the mica for too long was part of the problem. Plus, the DNA wasn’t able to equilibrate on the surface, resulting in the squished ball shapes rather than nice, separate strands. “If you let it sit for a long time, you're actually losing some of the surface charge and impurities in the water are being sucked down into the surface,” Perkins explained. Here’s how the improved process works. The mica is pre-soaked in a concentrated nickel-salt solution, then...

The Fastest Vortex in the West
Published: 06-26-2019
Hiding behind this optical croissant is a variety of unique physics. What do whirlpools, black holes, hurricanes, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot, and the creamer you just put into your coffee cup have in common? All of these things exhibit vortex phenomena, in which a fluid (e.g., gas, liquid, plasma, etc.) circulates around a common axis. Vortices such as these abound in nature, and can be found in macroscopic systems like those described above, or in microscopic quantum systems. And we now know...

Tying Quantum Knots with an Optical Clock
Published: 05-22-2019
When it comes to computers, quantum is the next big thing. Quantum computers could solve complex problems that even today’s most sophisticated super computers cannot. “One of the holy grails in the quantum world is to build that quantum computer,” JILA Fellow Ana Maria Rey said. “You want a universal machine that uses quantum elements to model and understand the quantum world.” Let’s back up and explain what makes a quantum computer different from a classical computer. Whether it’s your...

Chaos reigns in a quantum ion magnet
Published: 04-29-2019
"You are going to deviate exponentially from where you started… This is a little bit like chaos.” Black holes still pose a lot of questions for physicists, especially when it comes to understanding what happens to the dust, particles and light they draw in. Nothing that crosses a black hole’s event horizon can escape. When particles fall in, we can’t read their information anymore and they appear to be lost. But the laws of physics tell us that information can’t be truly lost. So what’s...

Optical tweezers achieve new feats of capturing atoms
Published: 04-29-2019
Reprinted from CU Boulder Today. Written April 2, 2019 • By Daniel Strain Trapping single atoms is a bit like herding cats, which makes researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder expert feline wranglers. In a new study, a team led by physicist Cindy Regal showed that it could load groups of individual atoms into large grids with an efficiency unmatched by existing methods.   Lone atoms are a potential building block for harnessing quantum physics. If researchers can capture and control...

The Snowflake of Insulators
Published: 03-01-2019
Falling on ice is never fun. A cold and slippery rink is as unforgiving as concrete. Falling into snow, however, is like falling into a pile of leaves. Fluffy, sometimes sticky, and soft enough to be the only substance societally acceptable to throw at another person’s face, snow couldn’t be more different than ice. But they’re both solid H2O, they’re just in different states.   JILA researchers in the Kapteyn-Murnane group recently discovered the insulator version of snow. Using a new...

The Strontium Optical Tweezer
Published: 01-25-2019
As noted in their recent publication, JILA researchers have, for the first time, trapped a single alkaline-earth atom and cooled it to its ground state. To trap this atom, researchers used an optical tweezer, which is a laser focused to a pinpoint that can hold, move and manipulate atoms. The full motional and electronic control wielded by this tool enables microscopically precise studies of the limiting factors in many of today’s forefront physics experiments, especially quantum information...

The First Quantum Degenerate Polar Molecules
Published: 01-23-2019
Understanding chemistry requires understanding both molecules and quantum physics. The former defines the start and end of chemical reactions, the latter dictates the dynamics in between. JILA researchers now have a better understanding of both.   For the last decade, JILA researchers have expertly chilled, and then combined, atoms into ultracold polar molecules. But today, researchers in the Ye group announced achievement of the next step: combining cold atoms into quantum degenerate polar...

Taming Chemistry at the Quantum Level
Published: 10-04-2018
JILA researchers are using lasers to control chemical reactions at the quantum level. This control brings new insights to our understanding of reaction pathways, and serves as a proof-of-principle that similar techniques could revolutionize our study of chemical processes. In the vast stretches between solar systems, heat does not flow and sound does not exist. Action seems to stop, but only if you don’t look long enough. Violent and chaotic actions occur in the long stretches of outer space....

Turn it Up to 11 – The XUV Comb
Published: 09-04-2018
JILA Researchers have generated the most powerful XUV frequency comb yet. This tabletop experiment generates powers comparable to synchrotron light sources’, while maintaining stability and control. This tool could light a second revolution in quantum physics by enabling spectroscopy at unprecedented precisions.   With the advent of the laser, the fuzzy bands glowing from atoms transformed into narrow lines of distinct color. These spectral lines became guiding beacons visible from the quantum...

A Collaborative Mastery of X-rays
Published: 07-18-2018
The hardest problems are never solved by one person. They are solved by teams; or in the case of science, collaborations. It took a collaboration of 17 researchers, including four JILA fellows and another six JILA affiliates, just a little over five years to achieve robust polarization control over isolated attosecond (one billionth of a billionth of a second) pulses of extreme-ultraviolet light. In layman’s terms, they smooshed oodles of energy into a temporally tiny, yet exquisitely...

A Little Less Spontaneous
Published: 06-29-2018
A large fraction of JILA research relies on laser cooling of atoms, ions and molecules for applications as diverse as world-leading atomic clocks, human-controlled chemistry, quantum information, new forms of ultracold matter and the search for new details of the origins of the universe. JILAns use laser cooling every day in their research, and have mastered arcane details of the process. So it was a surprise when an accidental discovery in a JILA lab, coupled with new theory to explain that...

Shake it Till You Make it
Published: 06-27-2018
“Well, this isn’t going to work.” That was recent JILA graduate Carrie Weidner’s first thought when her advisor, JILA Fellow Dana Anderson, proposed the difficult experiment: to build an interferometer unlike any before – an interferometer of shaking atoms. But the grit paid off, as this compact and robust interferometer outperforms all others in filtering and distinguishing signal direction. While the designs of most atom interferometers are symmetric and elegant, Weidner says the shaken-...

How Magnetism Melts Away
Published: 03-02-2018
Magnets hold cards to your fridge, and store data in your computer. They can power speakers, and produce detailed medical images. And yet, despite millennia of use, and centuries of study, magnetism is still far from fully understood. Members of the Kapteyn-Murnane group at JILA recently discovered that the underlying cause of magnetism – the quantum spin of the electron – can be manipulated 10 times faster than previously thought possible. And while this result may be very useful in practice,...

The Energetic Adolescence of Carbon Dioxide
Published: 01-12-2018
The reaction, at first glance, seems simple. Combustion engines, such as those in your car, form carbon monoxide (CO). Sunlight converts atmospheric water into a highly reactive hydroxyl radical (OH). And when CO and OH meet, one byproduct is carbon dioxide (CO2) ­– a main contributor to air pollution and climate change. But it’s more complicated than that. Before CO2 is formed, a short-lived, intermediate molecule, called the hydrocarboxyl radical (HOCO), is formed. The existence of HOCO was...

And, The Answer Is . . . Still Round
Published: 10-09-2017
Why are we here? This is an age-old philosophical question. However, physicists like Will Cairncross, Dan Gresh and their advisors Eric Cornell and Jun Ye actually want to figure out out why people like us exist at all. If there had been the same amount of matter and antimatter created in the Big Bang, the future of stars, galaxies, our Solar System, and life would have disappeared in a flash of light as matter and antimatter recombined. But we know that’s not what happened. After matter-...

The Clock that Changed the World
Published: 10-05-2017
Imagine A Future . . . The International Moon Station team is busy on the Moon’s surface using sensitive detectors of gravity and magnetic and electric fields looking for underground water-rich materials, iron-containing ores, and other raw materials required for building a year-round Moon station. The station’s mission: launching colonists and supplies to Mars for colonization. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Americans are under simultaneous assault by three Category 5 hurricanes, one in the Gulf of...

It’s Triplets!
Published: 10-05-2017
Newly minted JILA Ph.D. Catherine Klauss and her colleagues in the Jin and Cornell group decided to see what would happen to a Bose-Einstein condensate of Rubidium-85 (85Rb) atoms if they suddenly threw the whole experiment wildly out of equilibrium by quickly lowering the magnetic field through a Feshbach resonance.1 Theoretically, this maneuver is predicted to make the atoms infinitely attracted to each other, and at the same time, infinitely repulsed by each other. “This is a really crazy...

A New Quantum Drum Refrain
Published: 09-18-2017
Quantum computers require systems that can encode, manipulate, and transmit quantum bits, or qubits. A creative way to accomplish all this was recently demonstrated by Adam Reed and his colleagues in the Lehnert group. The researchers converted propagating qubits (encoded as superpositions1 of zero and one microwave photons) into the motion of a tiny aluminum drum. The successful conversion is considered a key step in using a mechanical drum to (1) transfer quantum information between microwave...

Quantum Adventures with Cold Molecules
Published: 09-07-2017
Researchers at JILA and around the world are starting a grand adventure of precisely controlling the internal and external quantum states of ultracold molecules after years of intense experimental and theoretical study. Such control of small molecules, which are the most complex quantum systems that can currently be completely understood from the principles of quantum mechanics, will allow researchers to probe the quantum interactions of individual molecules with other molecules, investigate...

E. T. Phone Home
Published: 08-29-2017
When Steven Spielberg’s adorable extra-terrestrial, E. T., wanted to phone home, he should have contacted an information theorist like JILA’s Graeme Smith. Smith could have at least explained how E. T. could have used a cell phone to send a low-noise message to a cell phone tower,1 and from there––well to outer space (which is a problem that's much, much harder to solve than cell phone to cell phone tower transmissions). “Think of a cell phone,” Smith said. “You have some message you’re trying...

Precision Biomechanics
Published: 07-21-2017
The Perkins group has made dramatic advances in the use of Atomic Force Microscopes (AFMs) to study large single biomolecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA), that are important for life. After previously improving AFM measurements of biomolecules by orders of magnitude for stability, sensitivity and time response, the Perkins group has now developed ways to make these precision biomechanical measurements up to 100 times faster than previously possible––obtaining useful...

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