Research Highlights

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Quantum Information Science & Technology
A Look at Colorado's Quantum Revolution
Published: June 28, 2022

More than 400 years later, scientists are in the midst of an equally-important revolution. They’re diving into a previously-hidden realm—far wilder than anything van Leeuwenhoek, known as the “father of microbiology,” could have imagined. Some researchers, like physicists Margaret Murnane and Henry Kapteyn, are exploring this world of even tinier things with microscopes that are many times more precise than the Dutch scientist’s. Others, like Jun Ye, are using lasers to cool clouds of atoms to just a millionth of a degree above absolute zero with the goal of collecting better measurements of natural phenomena. 

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PI(s):
Jun Ye | Cindy Regal | Margaret Murnane | Henry Kapteyn | Shuo Sun | Ana Maria Rey
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Connecting Microwave and Optical Frequencies through the Ground State of a Micromechanical Object
Published: June 23, 2022

The process of developing a quantum computer has seen significant progress in the past 20 years. Quantum computers are designed to solve complex problems using the intricacies of quantum mechanics. These computers can also communicate with each other by using entangled photons (photons that have connected quantum states). As a result of this entanglement, quantum communication can provide a more secure form of communication, and has been seen as a promising method for the future of a more private and faster internet.

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PI(s):
Cindy Regal | Konrad Lehnert
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
New Research Reveals A More Robust Qubit System, even with a Stronger Laser Light
Published: June 15, 2022

Qubits are a basic building block for quantum computers, but they’re also notoriously fragile—tricky to observe without erasing their information in the process. Now, new research from CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) may be a leap forward for handling qubits with a light touch.  

In the study, a team of physicists demonstrated that it could read out the signals from a type of qubit called a superconducting qubit using laser light—and without destroying the qubit at the same time.

Artist's depiction of an electro-optic transducer, an ultra-thin wafer that can read out the information from a superconducting qubit.

Artist's depiction of an electro-optic transducer, an ultra-thin device that can capture and transform the signals coming from a superconducting qubit. (Credit: Steven Burrows/JILA)

The group’s results could be a major step toward building a quantum internet, the researchers say. Such a network would link up dozens or even hundreds of quantum chips, allowing engineers to solve problems that are beyond the reach of even the fastest supercomputers around today. They could also, theoretically, use a similar set of tools to send unbreakable codes over long distances. 

The study, published June 15 in the journal Nature, was led by JILA, a joint research institute between CU Boulder and NIST.

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PI(s):
Cindy Regal | Konrad Lehnert
Astrophysics
New Insights into Magnetic Fields of Red Dwarfs
Published: May 17, 2022

Of the many different objects in the solar system, M-dwarf stars, also known as red dwarf stars, are of particular interest to astrophysicists. These small objects are the most common type of star in the universe and have unique properties. “If you lay out all of the different types of stars [in a plot of stellar color versus brightness] we can see, based on what color they are and how bright they are, [that] most stars fall on a line we call the ‘main sequence’,” explained graduate student Connor Bice. “That's where they are born, and they stay in that same spot for most of their lives. Down at the tail end of that [line] are red dwarfs. They're the least massive, the coldest, and the smallest type of main-sequence stars.” Bice is a researcher in JILA Fellow and astrophysicist Juri Toomre's group, and both he and Toomre have been looking at some of a red dwarf's unique properties, mainly their magnetic fields and convective flows. In a new paper published in the Astrophysical Journal, Bice and Toomre have found a link between the star’s convective cycles, or the heat cycles in a star’s atmosphere, and its magnetic fields, using fluid dynamics simulations.

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PI(s):
Juri Toomre
Astrophysics
A surging glow in a distant galaxy could change the way we look at black holes
Published: May 09, 2022

An international team of astrophysicists, including scientists from CU Boulder, may have pinpointed the cause of that shift. The magnetic field lines threading through the black hole appear to have flipped upside down, causing a rapid but short-lived change in the object’s properties. It was as if compasses on Earth suddenly started pointing south instead of north. 

The findings, published May 5 in The Astrophysical Journal, could change how scientists look at supermassive black holes, said study coauthor Nicolas Scepi. 

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PI(s):
Mitch Begelman
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Tweezing a New Kind of Qubit
Published: May 04, 2022

JILA has a long history in quantum research, advancing the state of the art in the field as its Fellows study various quantum effects. One of these Fellowsis Adam Kaufman. Kaufman and his laboratory team work on quantum systems that are based on neutral atoms, investigating their capacities for quantum information storage and manipulation. The researchers utilize optical tweezers—arrays of highly focused laser beams which hold and move atoms—to study these systems. Optical tweezers allow researchers exquisite, single-particle experimental control. In a new paper published in Physical Review X, Kaufman and his team demonstrate that a specific isotope, ytterbium-171 (171Yb), has the capacity to store quantum information in decoherence-resistant (i.e., stable) nuclear qubits, allows for the ability to quickly manipulate the qubits, and finally, permits the production of such qubits in large, uniformly filled arrays. 

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PI(s):
Adam Kaufman
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Nanoscience | Precision Measurement
Ripples in Space-Time: Nano-Imaging Functional Materials at their Elementary Scales
Published: April 25, 2022

Functional materials—like molecular electronics, biomaterials, light-emitting diodes, or new photovoltaic materials—gain their electronic or photonic properties from complex and multifaceted interactions occurring at the elementary scales of their atomic or molecular constituents. In addition, the ability to control the functions of these materials through external stimuli , e.g., in the form of strong optical excitations, enables new properties in the materials, making them appealing for new technological applications. However, a major obstacle to overcome is the combination of the very fast time (billionths of a second) scales and the very small spatial (nanometer) scales which define the many-body interactions of the elementary excitations in the material which define its function. The extremely high time and spatial resolutions needed have been extremely difficult to achieve simultaneously. Many physicists have, therefore, struggled to visualize the interactions within these materials. In a paper recently published in Nature Communications, JILA Fellow Markus Raschke and his team report on a new ultrafast imaging technique that could solve this issue.

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PI(s):
Markus Raschke
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
An Atomic Game of Duck, Duck, Goose
Published: April 15, 2022

Physics has always been a science of rules. In many situations, these rules lead to clear and simple theoretical predictions which, nevertheless, are hard to observe in actual experimental settings where other confounding effects may obscure the desired phenomena. For JILA and NIST Fellows Ana Maria Rey and Jun Ye, one type of phenomena they are especially interested in observing are the interactions between light and atoms, especially those at the heart of the decay of an atom prepared in the excited state. “If you have an atom in the excited state, the atom will eventually decay to the ground state while emitting a photon,” explained Rey. “This process is called spontaneous emission.” The spontaneous emission rate can be manipulated by scientists, making it longer or shorter, depending on the experimental conditions. Many years ago it was predicted that one way to suppress or slow down spontaneous emission was by applying a special type of statistics known as Fermi statistics which prevents two identical fermions from being in the same quantum state, known as the Pauli Exclusion Principle

This principle is similar to a game of Duck, Duck, Goose, where two individuals fight over an open spot in a circle in order to avoid being “it.” Like children in this game, the atoms must find an empty quantum state to decay into. If they cannot find an empty state, interesting things begin to happen. “If an excited atom wants to decay, but the ground state is already filled, then the decay is “Pauli blocked” and the atom will stay in the excited state longer, or even forever,” Rey said. Nevertheless, the experimental observation of this effect happened to be challenging.  It was not until last year  that the Ye group observed Pauli blocking of radiation for the first time indirectly by measuring the light scattered by the atoms—but a direct observation of Pauli blocking by measuring  the lifetime of atoms in the steady state was lacking. More recently, Ye’s and Rey’s groups collaborated in a joint study, and were able to find an appropriate experimental setting where they were able to observe Pauli blocking of spontaneous emission by direct measurements of the excited state population. The results have been published in the journal Physical Review Letters. 

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PI(s):
Jun Ye | Ana Maria Rey
Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA and Cubit Partner with Key Quantum Companies for an Engaging Panel
Published: April 12, 2022

Colorado has a reputation for being a quantum ecosystem hotspot and a recent panel discussion further bolstered this image. It was hosted by JILA, a world-leading physics institute created by a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST; and the CUbit Quantum Initiative, a CU Boulder research center. The panel, titled "Women in Quantum: What Does It Take," brought in individuals from both quantum research and the quantum industry. With panelists from some of the biggest names in the quantum industry, including ColdQuanta, Maybell Quantum, Quantinuum, and Vescent, the discussions about the industry itself were relevant and engaging.

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PI(s):
Ana Maria Rey
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Running in a Quantum Corn Maze and Getting Stuck in the Dark
Published: March 23, 2022

Light is emitted when an atom decays from an excited state to a lower energy ground state, with the emitted photon carrying away the energy.  The spontaneous emission of light is a fundamental process that originates from the interaction between matter and the  modes of the electromagnetic field—the background “hiss” of the universe that is all around us. However, spontaneous emission of light can limit the utility of atomic excited states for a wide array of scientific and technological applications, from probing the nature of the universe to inertial navigation. Understanding ways to alter or even engineer spontaneous emission has been an intriguing topic in science.  JILA Fellows Ana Maria Rey and James Thompson study ways to control light emission by placing atoms in an optical cavity, a resonator made of two mirrors between which light can bounce back and forth many times. Together, with JILA postdoc and first author Asier Piñeiro Orioli, they have predicted that when an array of multi-level atoms is placed in the cavity the atoms can all cooperate and collectively suppress their emission of light into the cavity. These findings were recently published in Physical Review X.

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PI(s):
Ana Maria Rey | James Thompson
Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Electrifying Molecular Interactions
Published: March 17, 2022

Worldwide, many researchers are interested in controlling atomic and molecular interactions. This includes JILA and NIST fellows Jun Ye and Ana Maria Rey, both of whom have spent years researching interacting potassium-rubidium (KRb) molecules, which were originally created in a collaboration between Ye and the late Deborah Jin. In the newest collaboration between the experimental (Ye) and theory (Rey) groups, the researchers have developed a new way to control two-dimensional gaseous layers of molecules, publishing their exciting new results in the journal Science.

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PI(s):
Jun Ye | Ana Maria Rey
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Laser Physics | Precision Measurement
The Prime Suspect: Hot Band Absorption
Published: March 07, 2022

The hunt was afoot within the laboratory of JILA and NIST Fellow Ralph Jimenez as his team continued to unravel the mystery of entangled two-photon absorption. Entangled photons are pairs of light particles whose quantum states are not independent of each other, so they share aspects of their properties, such as their energies and angular momenta. For many years, these photons have been studied by physicists who are trying to create quantum networks and other technologies. The Jimenez lab has been researching whether entangled photons can excite molecules with greater, even super, efficiency as compared with normal photons. 


In a new paper published in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, Jimenez and his team report a new experimental setup to search for the cause of a mysterious fluorescent signal that appears to be from entangled photon excitation. According to Jimenez: “We built a setup where you could use either a classical laser or entangled photons to look for fluorescence. And the reason we built it is to ask: ‘What is it that other people were seeing when they were claiming to see entangled photon-excited fluorescence?’ We saw no signal in our previous work published a year ago, headed by Kristen Parzuchowski. So now, we're wondering, people are seeing something, what could it possibly be? That was the detective work here.” The results of their new experiments suggested that hot-band absorption (HBA) by the subject molecules, could be the potential culprit for this mysterious fluorescent signal, making it the prime suspect. 

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PI(s):
Ralph Jimenez
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Laser Physics
A Necklace Made of Doughnuts
Published: February 22, 2022

Physicists develop some of the most cutting-edge technologies, including new types of lasers, microscopes, and telescopes. Using lasers, physicists can learn more about quantum interactions in materials and molecules by taking snapshots of the fastest processes, and many other things. While lasers have been used for decades, their applications in technology continue to evolve. One such application is to generate and control x-ray laser light sources, which produce much shorter wavelengths than visible light. This is important because progress in developing x-ray lasers with practical applications had essentially stalled for over 50 years. Fortunately, researchers are beginning to change this by using new approaches. In a paper published in Science Advances, a JILA team, including JILA Fellows Margaret Murnane, and Henry Kapteyn, manipulated laser beam shapes to better control properties of x-ray light.

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PI(s):
Margaret Murnane | Henry Kapteyn
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
JILA Atomic Clocks Measure Einstein’s General Relativity at Millimeter Scale
Published: February 16, 2022

JILA physicists have measured Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, or more specifically, the effect called time dilation, at the smallest scale ever, showing that two tiny atomic clocks, separated by just a millimeter or the width of a sharp pencil tip, tick at different rates.

The experiments, described in the Feb. 17 issue of Nature, suggest how to make atomic clocks 50 times more precise than today’s best designs and offer a route to perhaps revealing how relativity and gravity interact with quantum mechanics, a major quandary in physics.
 

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PI(s):
Jun Ye
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Physics Education
Where Science Meets Art: A Mural on AMO Physics
Published: February 02, 2022

JILA Fellow Cindy Regal has helped consult on a new mural placed in Washington Park in Denver, Colorado. The mural, titled Leading Light, loosely alludes to AMO physics, which Regal studies by using laser beams. With bright yellows and vivid pinks, the mural depicts four women interacting with different blue spheres, representing electrons. One woman wears sunglasses, modeled on thelaser goggles that JILAns wear for lab safety. The artist, Amanda Phingbodhipakkiya, found Regal's work captivating. “We share a vision to not only uplift women in STEM and to bring science and our society closer together, but also to foster dynamic and organic relationships with science in everyone, whether or not they choose to become scientists,” the artist said.

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PI(s):
Cindy Regal
Astrophysics | Biophysics | Quantum Information Science & Technology
A Look at She Has the Floor
Published: January 17, 2022

When it comes to inspiring young people to pursue a career within the sciences, you can't start too early. At least, that's what the JILA Excellence in Diversity and Inclusivity (JEDI) group believed when they collaborated with the Colorado non-profit organization Pretty Brainy to develop a speaker series. The series, designed for girls from ages 11 and up, featured the voices of several women JILAns, all focusing on their work and giving tools for success to this younger generation. Over the course of 8 weeks, women of all ages could virtually tune in to hear some of the brightest female minds from JILA discuss the importance of mentorship, perseverance, failure, and of course, some of the newest findings within physics. 

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PI(s):
Ann-Marie Madigan
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse tours JILA
Published: December 20, 2021

Last week, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse got a first-hand look at the future of ultrafast lasers, record-setting clocks, and quantum computers on the CU Boulder campus. Neguse visited the university Thursday to tour facilities at JILA, a research partnership between CU Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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PI(s):
Jun Ye | Margaret Murnane
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Quantum Information Science & Technology
Atomic Musical Chairs
Published: November 18, 2021

How atoms interact with light reflects some of the most basic principles in physics. On a quantum level, how atoms and light interact has been a topic of interest in the worldwide scientific community for many years. Light scattering is a process where incoming light excites an atom to a higher-lying energy state from which it subsequently decays back to its ground state by reemitting a quantum of light. In the quantum realm, there are many factors that affect light scattering. In a new paper published in Science, JILA and NIST Fellow Jun Ye and his laboratory members report on how light scattering is affected by the quantum nature of the atoms, more specifically, thequantum statistical rule such as the Pauli Exclusion Principle.

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PI(s):
Jun Ye
Atomic & Molecular Physics | Quantum Information Science & Technology
A Magic Recipe for a Quantum Interferometer
Published: November 17, 2021

Gravimetry, or the measurement of the strength of a gravitational field (or gravitational acceleration), has been of great interest to physicists since the 1600s. One of the most precise ways to measure gravitational acceleration is to use an atom interferometer. There are many different types of atom interferometers but so far all operate using uncorrelated atoms that are not entangled. To build the best one allowed in nature, it requires harnessing the power of quantum entanglement. However, making a quantum interferometer with entangled atoms is challenging. JILA Fellows Ana Maria Rey and James K. Thompson have published a paper in Physical Review Letters that discusses a new protocol that could make entangled quantum interferometers easier to produce and use.

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PI(s):
Ana Maria Rey | James Thompson
Quantum Information Science & Technology
Message Received: Studying Quantum Channels
Published: November 11, 2021

Physicists study many forms of communication, including quantum communication. Thanks to specific properties of quantum mechanics, like entanglement, information integrity can be better maintained with quantum communications, even being hackproof in some cases. Quantum entanglement is the property that allows two molecules, each in a random quantum state, to be in perfect harmony with each other. This is important, as one common test of quantum communication devices, a.k.a., quantum channels, is to send entangled photons (light particles) down these channels. Entanglement helps when photons are lost or absorbed, as the redundancy in information being sent this way ensures that some of the information will still reach the receiver. 

Quantum channels have their own quirks that make them unique to study. In a new paper published in Nature Communications, post-doctoral researcher Vikesh Siddhu of JILA Fellow Graeme Smith's team looked at some of the logistics in using quantum channels to send information. Siddhu analyzed how noise occurring in a quantum channel affects the information it communicates.

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PI(s):
Graeme Smith