World Quantum Day is a big deal for JILA. With around 75% of JILA Fellows researching quantum phenomena, it's no surprise that this institute is a world leader in this field. “Quantum research enables so many applications, varying from new generations of computers, secure communications, to ultraprecise clocks and sensors,” explained JILA Fellow Shuo Sun. “In addition, quantum research will drive the advances of many fields such as material science, chemistry, nanoscience, etc., which will likely drive new technology breakthroughs that we cannot predict yet. Finally, the research in quantum allows us to probe the fundamental questions in physics, which is really fascinating to me.” Quantum physics has had a long history at JILA, becoming popular thanks to Einstein's work in the 1920s. Several JILA Fellows, including JILA and NIST Fellow Jun Ye, continue to build off of Einstein's original work.
There are many different sub-fields within quantum that JILA Fellows study. These can range from entanglement (where two atoms' quantum states are interdependent on each other) to simulations of quantum interactions to quantum superposition (where a particle can be in two positions at once). Within JILA, the quantum scientists are split between experimentalists and theorists. Theorists like Ana Maria Rey, John Bohn, and Murray Holland all use simulations and mathematics to study puzzling quantum dynamics. In contrast, experimentalists such as Jun Ye, James Thompson, and Adam Kaufman all create tests to see quantum dynamics in action. In many cases, the theorists and experimentalists work together to tackle the mysteries of quantum science using multiple approaches. For Sun, an experimentalist, research quantum dynamics can include many different methods. “The typical day varies,” he explained. “But my students and I spend most of the time reading papers, doing calculations of quantum and photonic systems, designing and fabricating nanoscale devices in cleanrooms, characterizing devices in our lab, and building setups to explore new capabilities to discover or apply quantum effects.” Sun also utilizes collaborations and discussions within the JILA community. “Of course, we spend lots of time talking to each other and to other colleagues as well,” he added.
Quantum science has also helped JILA become a world leader thanks to a few Nobel Prizes. In 2001, JILA Fellows Eric Cornell and Carl Weinman were awarded Nobel Prizes in Physics for making the first Bose-Einstein-Condensate (BEC). The BEC is a special state of matter caused by an ultracold gas of boson particles. Here, physicists can study different types of quantum behavior, like superposition. Like many other quantum experiments, the BEC could be studied with a laser. Many of JILA's quantum physicists use lasers to better understand quantum dynamics.
It was similar lasers that gave JILA a third Nobel laureate, as in 2005, JILA Fellow John "Jan" Hall won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his longtime work on laser systems. Many JILA Fellows have developed unique types of lasers, such as Fellows Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, who helped contribute groundbreaking work in creating tabletop laser systems, making quantum research more accessible for many scientists.
Currently, JILA Fellows are not only studying quantum dynamics but also working on their applications. Fellows like Adam Kaufman, Graeme Smith, and Sun are working on methods to help develop a quantum internet, a way for messages to get sent faster and more securely between senders. Others, like Jun Ye, are improving the atomic clock, which utilizes quantum properties to work. Utilizing the collaborations between these different projects allows JILA Fellows to better tackle challenging problems. “As far as I have experienced, JILA is truly a collaborative community,” Sun added. “Many grand experiments and challenges are performed through collaborations among multiple JILA fellows, which is really important since to make progress in quantum requires advances in different areas.”
JILA also hosts several quantum research centers within its facilities, including Quantum Systems through Entangled Science and Engineering (Q-SEnSE), Center for Theory of Quantum Matter (CTQM), and CUbit Quantum Initiative. Several of these centers are working to help form connections between the University of Colorado Boulder and quantum companies within Colorado. According to CUbit Executive Director Philip Makotyn: "We at CUbit are excited to celebrate World Quantum Day, and have Colorado be a part of a larger quantum community. We're looking forward to seeing where the worldwide quantum ecosystem grows, especially with collaborations between industry and academia."
As World Quantum Day is celebrated by the scientific community, we at JILA honor our scientists and their teams who study quantum science, and we look forward to what quantum may hold for our future.
Written by Kenna Castleberry, JILA Science Communicator