Physicist Andreas Becker joined the JILA faculty as an Associate Fellow in August of 2008. He became a Fellow in 2012. His specialty is ultrafast laser theory, a topic of interest to several JILA labs, including the Kapteyn/Murnane group. His wife, theorist Agnieszka Jaron-Becker, also arrived in 2008. She is an Associate Fellow of JILA. They are the proud parents of Anna Sophie, who has yet to decide whether she wants to be a physicist when she grows up.
Anna Sophie’s father decided to turn his strong interests in physics and math into a career in physics while still in high school. Soon after starting work at the Universität Bielefeld (Germany), he decided to become a theoretician. He liked interpreting experimental results and making calculations that predict experimental findings, then getting to see the pertinent experiments actually happen a few years later. Becker received his Diploma (equivalent to a Master’s degree) from Bielefeld in 1993 for studies of electron/atom collisions and a Ph.D. from the same institution in 1997 for his work on ultrafast laser theory.
Armed with a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Becker came to the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, in 1999 for postdoctoral studies with See Leang Chin. There Chin advised him, “Don’t do only theory. Go into the lab and get your hands dirty.” Becker argued that he’d break everything in the lab and then Chin would have to buy more equipment. Chin retorted, “Don’t worry, all graduate students do this.”
For 12 months, Becker worked with an experimental team studying the effect of intense lasers on the ionization of atoms and molecules and the propagation of ultrashort laser pulses in air and other materials. He not only learned how to gather, read, and interpret data, but also became the first author on the experimental part of a paper that explored both experiment and theory.
In 2001, Becker returned to Germany to obtain his Habilitation, the highest academic qualification one can achieve in Germany. He worked on ultrafast-laser theory both at Bielefeld and at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden. He became head of his own research group in 2002 and completed his Habilitation in June of 2003. Becker worked at Dresden until he and his family came to JILA in 2008.
At JILA, Becker is working on several projects. He is continuing his exploration of the role of Coulomb interactions in the simultaneous removal of two electrons from an atom—a complex topic he has now successfully modeled after more than a decade of work. In collaboration with his wife Agnieszka, he is also studying the use of ultrafast lasers to image electron wave distributions in molecules and deduce the molecular radius of fullerenes (C60–C180). Other theoreticians predict that under an intense laser pulse C60 will breathe—a prediction the Beckers hope can be imaged with their theory and tested experimentally at JILA. Finally, he is exploring the interaction of attosecond laser pulses with electrons in atoms and molecules as well as investigating the control of these dynamics with coherent ultrashort laser pulses.
Becker says he’s excited to be exploring all these ideas here at JILA. “What’s great about being a theorist at JILA is that you can knock, for example, on Henry and Margaret’s door and say, hey I have this crazy idea,” he explains. “Then we can discuss it and hopefully come up with something new.”