News & Highlights

Research Highlights

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...
Lassoing Colors with Atomic Cowpokes
Published: 07-10-2017
Getting lasers to have a precise single frequency (color) can be trickier than herding cats. So it’s no small accomplishment that the Thompson group has figured out how to use magnetic fields to create atomic cowpokes to wrangle a specific single color into place so that it doesn’t wander hither and yon. The researchers do this with a magnetic field that causes strontium atoms in an optical cavity to stop absorbing light and become transparent to laser light at one specific color. What happens...
The Electron Stops When The Bands Play On
Published: 06-20-2017
The Kapteyn-Murnane group has come up with a novel way to use fast bursts of extreme ultraviolet light to capture how strongly electrons interact with each other in materials. This research is important for figuring out how quickly materials can change their state from insulating to conducting, or from magnetic to nonmagnetic. In the future such fast switching may lead to faster and more efficient nanoelectronics. In this work, graduate student Cong Chen, research associate Zhensheng Tao, and...
The Ties That Bind
Published: 05-22-2017
JILA and NIST scientists are hot on the trail of understanding quantum correlations (or entanglement) among groups of quantum particles such as atoms or ions. Such particles are the building blocks of larger and larger chunks of matter that make up the everyday world. Interestingly, correlated atoms and ions exhibit exotic behaviors and accomplish tasks that are impossible for noninteracting particles. Therefore, understanding how entanglement is generated in those systems is not only central...
The Chameleon Interferometer
Published: 04-21-2017
The Regal group recently met the challenge of measurements in an extreme situation with a device called an interferometer. The researchers succeeded by using creative alterations to the device itself and quantum correlations. Quantum correlations are unique, and often counterintuitive, quantum mechanical interactions that occur among quantum objects such as photons and atoms. The group exploited these interactions in the way they set up their interferometer, and improved its ability to measure...
Vision Quest
Published: 03-02-2017
The Perkins group continues to extend the performance of its unique Atomic Force Microscope (AFM) technology, revealing for the first time a dozen new short-lived intermediate states in the folding and unfolding of a membrane protein that controls the exchange of chemicals and ions into and out of living cells. Measuring the energetics and dynamics of membrane proteins is crucial to understanding normal physiology and disease, and the Perkins group’s observation of multiple new folding/...
Quantum Leaps
Published: 12-21-2016
Research associate Shimon Kolkowitz and his colleagues in the Ye group and Rey theory group have developed a powerful new way to experimentally simulate the complex behavior of electrons in solids. In these experiments, the team uses its strontium lattice optical clock not to track time, but to take advantage of the ultracold atoms in the clock mimicking the quantum behavior of electrons in a lattice of metal atoms. Because the ultracold atoms in the clock can be controlled and measured so much...
Molecules at the Quantum Frontier
Published: 12-19-2016
Deborah Jin, Jun Ye, and their students wrote a review during the summer of 2016 for Nature Physics highlighting the accomplishments and future directions of the relatively new field of ultracold-molecule research. The field was pioneered by the group’s creation of the world’s first gas of ultracold potassium-rubidium (KRb) molecules in 2008. The molecules were made by first creating weakly bound pairs of K and Rb atoms from an ultracold atomic mixture and then using lasers to transfer the atom...
The Beautiful Ballet of Quantum Baseball
Published: 12-12-2016
The Rey and Ye groups discovered the strange rules of quantum baseball earlier this year. But now, quantum baseball games happen faster, and players (dipolar particles) are no longer free to move or stand wherever they want. Players must not only be stronger to jump and catch the balls (photons), but also more organized. At the same time, they must be good spinners. And, only a small amount of disorder is tolerated! The fast spinning of the players and their fixed positions have made quantum...
Recreating Fuels from Waste Gas
Published: 11-21-2016
Graduate student Mike Thompson of the Weber group wants to understand the basic science of taking carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by burning fossil fuels and converting it back into useful fuels. People could then use these fuels to generate electricity, heat homes and office buildings, power automobiles and trains, fly airplanes, and drive the industrial processes of modern life. However, the conversion of CO2 into useful fuels is a challenging problem in chemistry and chemical engineering. It...
Going Viral: The Source of a Spin-Flip Epidemic
Published: 11-11-2016
For a long time, there’s been a mystery concerning how tiny interactions between individual atoms could lead to really big changes in a whole cloud of independent-minded particles. The reason this behavior is mysterious is that the atoms interact weakly, and only when they are very close to each other. Yet, the atoms clear across the cloud seem to know when it’s time to participate in some big-deal quantum behavior such as simultaneously all changing the direction of their spins. Now graduate...
The Ultimate Radar Detector
Published: 09-26-2016
The Nesbitt group has invented a nifty technique for exploring the physics and chemistry of a gas interacting with molecules on the surface of a liquid. The group originally envisioned the technique because it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of understanding surface chemistry. For instance, ozone depletion in the atmosphere occurs because of chemical reactions of hydrochloric acid on the surface of ice crystals and aerosols in the upper atmosphere. Interstellar chemistry takes place...
A Quantum Metal Model System
Published: 09-26-2016
Exciting new theory from the Rey group reveals the profound effects of electron interactions on the flow of electric currents in metals. Controlling currents of strongly interacting electrons is critical to the development of tomorrow’s advanced microelectronics systems, including spintronics devices that will process data faster, use less power than today’s technology, and operate in conditions where quantum effects predominate. The group’s secret to better understanding electron interactions...
How Cold Can a Tiny Drum Get?
Published: 07-20-2016
Bob Peterson and his colleagues in the Lehnert-Regal lab recently set out to try something that had never been done before: use laser cooling to systematically reduce the temperature of a tiny drum made of silicon nitride as low as allowed by the laws of quantum mechanics. Although laser cooling has become commonplace for atoms, researchers have only recently used lasers to cool tiny silicon nitride drums, stretched over a silicon frame, to their quantum ground state. Peterson and his team...
Quantum Baseball
Published: 03-31-2016
The Ye and Rey groups have discovered the strange rules of quantum baseball in which strontium (Sr) atoms are the players, and photons of light are the balls. The balls control the players by not only getting the atoms excited, but also working together. The players coordinate throwing and catching the balls. While this is going on, the balls can change the state of the players! Sometimes the balls even escape the quantum baseball game altogether and land on detectors in the laboratory. The...

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