Highlighting the Research Centers within JILA

JILA is the host of multiple centers within its campus. Some are National Science Foundation (NSF) funded and others funded by more private centers. Each center focuses on specific topics to advance the knowledge, education, and research on some of the biggest ideas within physics.


STROBE is one of the 12 nationwide NSF funded Science and Technology centers. According to Ellen Keister, the STROBE Director of Education: “STROBE research groups have common challenges associated with big data, detectors, as well as pushing the limits of x-ray, electron and visible nano-imaging. STROBE enables research groups to address common challenges, enhance tabletop and national facilities and use new capabilities to address current nano and bio materials challenges.”

While STROBE works on collaboration between investigators within its center, it also encourages collaboration from a younger generation. “STROBE encompasses K-12 outreach, undergraduate education, graduate education programming, essentially focusing on how to build and maintain a top STEM workforce,” Keister comments. “- and do it in a way that is inclusive, and that provides students and trainees with the technical and soft skills and tools they need to be prepared and successful when they go out into the 21st century workforce.”

Lauren Mason, STROBE Director of Communications and Operations, echoes this importance of collaboration, but specifically with the undergraduate population: “Undergraduate students from across the nation who apply to the STROBE Summer Undergraduate Research Scholars (SURS) Program have the opportunity to participate in research experiences at multiple STROBE nodes over consecutive summers. Our program is unique in that STROBE offers multiple summer research experiences in different labs to develop community and deep technical expertise.” STROBE not only shows the value of collaboration, but also the value of educating a younger generation of researchers.


Like STROBE, The Partnership for Education and the Advancement of Quantum and nanoSystems (PEAQS) works heavily to provide STEM opportunities for underrepresented undergraduate students. As Sarah Schreiner, the PEAQS Co-PI and STROBE Director of Outreach and Broadening Participation explains, “PEAQS is an NSF Partnerships for Research and Education in Materials Research (PREM) program. The lead institution is Fort Lewis College, a non-tribal, Native American Serving Institution, down in Durango. PEAQS is also partners with Norfolk State University, which is a member of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and STROBE.

The research provides students with access to the whole cycle of material science, all the way from the synthesis and fabrication of the materials to the characterization and integration of materials.” PEAQS is an excellent program for undergraduates wanting to learn the research process, as well as find resources for internships and future job positions.


One center within JILA that is funded by the Department of Defense (DOD) is the multidisciplinary university research initiative (MURI). This center is awarded funding to work on laser technology at JILA and other universities. According to Eric Cornell: “MURIs have a smaller number of people, usually. They’re very collaborative, right in the name ‘MU’ stands for multiple universities. The MURIs are getting individual professors to work on a collective idea.” This year is the last year for the current MURI, and it will be renewed soon.

The Physics Frontier Center (PFC): 

“I’ve been the admin in the PFC for 20 years, before it was the Physics Frontier Center. Back then, it was called the Group Grant until we won NSF funding to create the PFC center. The PFC then replaced the Group Grant.” Krista Beck, an admin, describes her early work at the PFC. The PFC is one of the three NSF centers located on JILA’s campus and hosts around 22 JILA investigators. PI Jun Ye explains that the center “is broader subject-wise as it touches on chemistry, biology, and other topics.” The PFC encourages active collaboration between investigators to solve some of the biggest mysteries within science.

In fact, this teamwork within the PFC is quite contagious. “The PFC has this nice spirit of collaboration and I, myself, have collaborated with quite a few PFC investigators in JILA over the past two decades, writing many papers together.” Ye states. “And this JILA culture has been extremely powerful. When we were building up Q-SEnSE, the PFC culture was one we borrowed from, emphasizing on collaboration within Q-SEnSE.” In echoing the power of teamwork, PFC director Eric Cornell adds, “Some of our projects are explicitly multi-investigator projects.” With these multi-investigator projects, PI’s use their skills to complement each other’s knowledge in order to successfully answer research questions. “it’s been pretty amazing.” Beck comments. “There have been lots of papers put out that have more than one PFC PI, which is really cool. Some theorists and experimentalists will work together across projects. Acknowledgements will include also several centers. They all work together really well.”

Quantum Systems through Entangled Science and Engineering (Q-SEnSE):

The research centers within JILA also include Quantum Systems through Entangled Science and Engineering (Q-SEnSE). According to Director of Operations, Steve ONeil: “The Q-SEnSE focus on Quantum Sensors commands a unique status in relation to the related fields of quantum simulation, quantum computing, and quantum networking, because Quantum Sensing and Measurement both underlies the ultimate success of those other fields and uses them to achieve its own full technological potential.” With that in mind, Q-SEnSE derives enormous benefits from collaborations among 37 investigators at 11 organizations around the country and one in Europe. Director, Jun Ye states: “it connects with other academic institutions such as Stanford, MIT, Harvard, University of New Mexico, and national laboratories. They are all connected and collaborating together to solve challenging problems in quantum information science and technology.”

Q-SEnSE’s collaboration and teamwork extends beyond its own members, as the center also shares some common research interests with the Quantum Systems Accelerator (QSA), a DOE research center with a goal of building a scalable quantum computer in 5 years. The QSA is led by the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, and partners with CU Boulder and 14 other institutions. Upon thinking of the benefits of having so many collaborative centers at CU, ONeil comments, “in addition to significant research synergies, there is a reputational advantage that plays out in attracting talent. Whether it’s at the level of recruiting a junior professor, the level of a post-doc looking for a place to work, or the level of a graduate student looking for a place to study with a professor to do a Ph.D.”

While Q-SEnSE engages prominent researchers from around the world, it also emphasizes a community of collaboration and teamwork within the center and with its many partners. Q-SEnSE illustrates the importance of working together to advance the boundaries of modern physics. As Ye states: “As a scientist, you are always curious whether you can advance the knowledge or technology to the next level.


The CUbit center is also part of the quantum initiative, and is the parent organization for Q-SEnSE. Its goal is to advance fundamental science and build a strong foundation for novel quantum technologies and their rapid dissemination, application and commercialization. Using collaboration within its sub-centers, CUbit has been able to publish some ground-breaking work.


The Center for Theory of Quantum Matter (CTQM) is a sub-center of CUbit, and is focused solely on theory. Director Ana Maria Rey states that: “we have this synergy between research in condensed matter, high energy physics, and quantum information. This center allows funding for external speakers and sharing information and new ideas.” Allowing a place for theorists specifically to discuss their work gives way to new types of collaboration. “This is a unique way to be in touch with a different type of community and know what they’re doing.” Rey adds. “That’s the heart of the center.”



JILA is the host of multiple centers within its campus. Some are National Science Foundation (NSF) funded and others funded by more private centers. Each center focuses on specific topics to advance the knowledge, education, and research on some of the biggest ideas within physics.