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Atomic And Molecular Physics
JILA makes major contributions to four vibrant research areas in the field of atomic and molecular physics: cold molecules, dense atomic vapors, manipulating atoms and molecules with ultrafast light, and ultracold atoms. Ultracold atoms and molecules comprise novel forms of matter that form at temperatures below a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero (-459.67 °F). Many of JILA's atomic physicists investigate the properties, behavior, and interactions of cold (up to ~1 K) and ultracold matter. In the process, they learn first hand about a strange and hidden world where the laws of quantum mechanics predominate. Their research has helped to redefine atomic physics, a field that has enjoyed explosive growth because of the ability of theory to accurately describe observed phenomena and give predictive support to experiments.
At another frontier, JILA scientists are exploring the fastest processes in the natural world using ultrafast pulses on the femtosecond (10-15 seconds) and attosecond (10-18 seconds) time scales. This research explores the complex, interwoven dance of electrons in matter: how electrons can be manipulated using light fields, how electrons influence each other, and how electrons and atoms are dynamically coupled in molecules and materials. As part of this research, JILA scientists have developed ultrafast laser and X-ray sources that are now in use throughout the world for applications in science, technology, industry, and medicine.
The Institute's research programs in optical physics and precision measurement support its atomic and molecular physics research. For example, one optical physicist is studying the fundamental interactions of light with dense atomic vapors and several groups are collaborating to develop the ultrafast lasers, high-resolution microscopy, and coherent spectroscopy required by today's atomic and molecular physicists. Together, JILA’s atomic and molecular physicists are looking for answers to some of today’s most important scientific questions:
How do cold and ultracold molecules collide?
How precisely can we measure interactions between atoms or molecules in a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC)?
How can we control basic chemical reactions of ultracold matter?
What is the connection between Bose-Einstein condensation and superconductivity?
Can we use light to manipulate and control atoms, molecules, and electrons?
Can we "watch" the motions of electrons and atoms as bonds in molecules are formed or broken?
Can an experiment mimic a natural chemical or biological system's ability to select the optimal optical waveform to enhance a particular process?
Can we create additional novel states of matter in the laboratory?
What can we learn about crystals found in nature by studying crystals of light?
Does the electron have an electric dipole moment?
Can we make ultracold atom analogs of electronic devices?
Is it possible to build a quantum device that emits coherent light like a laser, even though it isn’t a laser?
Can we use laser-cooled atoms to make measurements beyond the standard quantum limit?