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JILA appointed James K. Thompson as a NIST associate fellow and adjoint professor in CU’s Department of Physics in 2006. Thompson arrived in Colorado in mid-September. He received his Ph.D. in physics in 2004 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he worked with Dave Pritchard, who was also Eric Cornell’s thesis advisor. In his thesis work, he made the world’s most precise mass comparisons by learning how to detect and precisely control the relative motion of two single ions confined for weeks to months in a Penning trap consisting of magnetic and electric fields. His work led to the most precise direct test to date of Einstein’s relationship E=mc2 and a novel method for nondestructively monitoring the quantum state of a single molecular ion. He received the 2004 American Physical Society’s DAMOP thesis award for this research.
Thompson did his postdoctoral research (with Vladan Vuletic) in the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms. There he focused on the interface between ultracold atoms and quantum optics, a topic he plans to pursue at JILA. His goal is to apply his understanding of the interface between light and matter to the field of precision measurement. He began by devising strategies to reduce the effect of the fundamental quantum noise that arises from Heisenberg’s uncertainty relationship as applied to atomic spins. He plans to nondestructively measure and cancel out the quantum fluctuations in the collective spin state of an ensemble of atoms. By learning how to minimize the effect of quantum noise, Thompson hopes to advance the precise measurements required for atomic clocks and searches for permanent electric dipole moments in atoms and molecules.
Thompson is married to Deborah Whitehead, who joined the faculty of CU’s Department of Religious Studies in January of 2007. The couple has three children, Grace, Lily, and Julia.