Research Highlights

Atomic & Molecular Physics
Shake it Till You Make it
Published: June 27, 2018

“Well, this isn’t going to work.” That was recent JILA graduate Carrie Weidner’s first thought when her advisor, JILA Fellow Dana Anderson, proposed the difficult experiment: to build an interferometer unlike any before – an interferometer of shaking atoms. But the grit paid off, as this compact and robust interferometer outperforms all others in filtering and distinguishing signal direction. While the designs of most atom interferometers are symmetric and elegant, Weidner says the shaken-lattice experiment proposed by Anderson “is more like broken eggs.”

PI: Dana Anderson
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Precision Measurement
Same Clock. New Perspective.
Published: March 26, 2018

We all know what a tenth of a second feels like. It’s a jiffy, a snap of the fingers, or a camera shutter click. But what does 14 billion years–the age of the universe–feel like? JILA’s atomic clock has the precision to measure the age of the universe to within a tenth of a second. That sort of precision is difficult to intuit. Yet, JILA’s atomic clock, which is the most precise clock in the world, continues to improve its precision. The latest jump in precision, of nearly 50 percent, came about from a new perspective.

PI: Jun Ye
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Astrophysics
How a Dust Bunny Becomes a Planet
Published: February 23, 2018

Jupiter is large enough to fit 1,300 Earths inside, and still have room. But like all planets, Jupiter was once nothing more than a cosmic dust bunny. A team of physicists at JILA and the University of Arizona, led by JILA Senior Research Associate Jake Simon, are studying how cosmic pebbles­­—­starting only a millimeter in size—can lead to the formation of planetesimals, the football-field-to-Delaware-sized primordial asteroids whose development defined our solar system’s architecture.

PI: Phil Armitage
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Nanoscience
Brightening the Dark State
Published: February 08, 2018

Researchers from the Raschke group are lighting up dark excitons. Specifically, the Raschke group developed a method to observe dark excitons in a 2D (i.e., a single layer of atoms) semiconductor at room temperature. This observation is an exciting development in the story of dark exciton applications, which includes quantum information processing and fundamental studies of complex semiconductor materials.

PI: Markus Raschke
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Laser Physics
How Magnetism Melts Away
Published: February 03, 2018

Magnets hold cards to your fridge, and store data in your computer. They can power speakers, and produce detailed medical images. And yet, despite millennia of use, and centuries of study, magnetism is still far from fully understood.

PI: Henry Kapteyn | PI: Margaret Murnane
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Atomic & Molecular Physics
The Energetic Adolescence of Carbon Dioxide
Published: January 12, 2018

The reaction, at first glance, seems simple. Combustion engines, such as those in your car, form carbon monoxide (CO). Sunlight converts atmospheric water into a highly reactive hydroxyl radical (OH). And when CO and OH meet, one byproduct is carbon dioxide (CO2) ­– a main contributor to air pollution and climate change.

PI: Jun Ye
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Biophysics
Molecule Movies, Now Filming at NIST
Published: November 03, 2017

The actors are molecules. The plot, broken molecular bonds. JILA Fellow Ralph Jimenez and a team of detector experts at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are working together to make X-ray movies of a molecular drama. The team at NIST built a microcalorimeter X-ray spectrometer capable of performing time-resolved spectroscopy; in other words: a camera to film molecules. They use this camera to learn how molecules break their bonds – do the ­electrons rearrange, do the other atoms quake?

PI: Ralph Jimenez
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Precision Measurement
And, The Answer Is . . . Still Round
Published: October 09, 2017

Why are we here? This is an age-old philosophical question. However, physicists like Will Cairncross, Dan Gresh and their advisors Eric Cornell and Jun Ye actually want to figure out out why people like us exist at all. If there had been the same amount of matter and antimatter created in the Big Bang, the future of stars, galaxies, our Solar System, and life would have disappeared in a flash of light as matter and antimatter recombined.

PI: Eric Cornell | PI: Jun Ye
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Atomic & Molecular Physics | Precision Measurement
The Clock that Changed the World
Published: October 05, 2017

Imagine A Future . . . The International Moon Station team is busy on the Moon’s surface using sensitive detectors of gravity and magnetic and electric fields looking for underground water-rich materials, iron-containing ores, and other raw materials required for building a year-round Moon station. The station’s mission: launching colonists and supplies to Mars for colonization. Meanwhile, back on Earth, Americans are under simultaneous assault by three Category 5 hurricanes, one in the Gulf of Mexico and two others threatening the Caribbean islands. Hundreds of people are stranded in the rising waters, but thanks precision cell-phone location services and robust cell-tower connections in high wind, their rescuers are able to accurately pinpoint their locations and send help immediately.

PI: Jun Ye
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Atomic & Molecular Physics
It’s Triplets!
Published: October 05, 2017

Newly minted JILA Ph.D. Catherine Klauss and her colleagues in the Jin and Cornell group decided to see what would happen to a Bose-Einstein condensate of Rubidium-85 (85Rb) atoms if they suddenly threw the whole experiment wildly out of equilibrium by quickly lowering the magnetic field through a Feshbach resonance.

PI: Eric Cornell | PI: Deborah Jin
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Nanoscience | Quantum Information Science & Technology
A New Quantum Drum Refrain
Published: September 18, 2017

Quantum computers require systems that can encode, manipulate, and transmit quantum bits, or qubits. A creative way to accomplish all this was recently demonstrated by Adam Reed and his colleagues in the Lehnert group. The researchers converted propagating qubits (encoded as superpositions1 of zero and one microwave photons) into the motion of a tiny aluminum drum. The successful conversion is considered a key step in using a mechanical drum to (1) transfer quantum information between microwave and optical frequencies or (2) store quantum information inside a quantum computer.

PI: Konrad Lehnert
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Atomic & Molecular Physics
Quantum Adventures with Cold Molecules
Published: September 07, 2017

Researchers at JILA and around the world are starting a grand adventure of precisely controlling the internal and external quantum states of ultracold molecules after years of intense experimental and theoretical study. Such control of small molecules, which are the most complex quantum systems that can currently be completely understood from the principles of quantum mechanics, will allow researchers to probe the quantum interactions of individual molecules with other molecules, investigate what happens to molecules during collisions, and study how molecules behave in chemical reactions. 

PI: Ana Maria Rey | PI: John Bohn | PI: Jun Ye
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Quantum Information Science & Technology
E.T. Phone Home
Published: August 29, 2017

When Steven Spielberg’s adorable extra-terrestrial, E. T., wanted to phone home, he should have contacted an information theorist like JILA’s Graeme Smith. Smith could have at least explained how E. T. could have used a cell phone to send a low-noise message to a cell phone tower,1 and from there––well to outer space (which is a problem that's much, much harder to solve than cell phone to cell phone tower transmissions).

PI: Graeme Smith
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Astrophysics
Something New Under the Sun
Published: August 07, 2017

The Sun isn’t working the way we thought it did. Many astrophysicists haven't actually understood one aspect of how the Sun worked––until former senior research associate Nick Featherstone and senior research associate Brad Hindman set the record straight.

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Biophysics
Precision Biomechanics
Published: July 21, 2017

The Perkins group has made dramatic advances in the use of Atomic Force Microscopes (AFMs) to study large single biomolecules, such as proteins and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA), that are important for life. After previously improving AFM measurements of biomolecules by orders of magnitude for stability, sensitivity and time response, the Perkins group has now developed ways to make these precision biomechanical measurements up to 100 times faster than previously possible––obtaining useful information in hours to days rather than weeks to months. 

PI: Thomas Perkins
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Laser Physics
Lassoing Colors with Atomic Cowpokes
Published: July 10, 2017

Getting lasers to have a precise single frequency (color) can be trickier than herding cats. So it’s no small accomplishment that the Thompson group has figured out how to use magnetic fields to create atomic cowpokes to wrangle a specific single color into place so that it doesn’t wander hither and yon. The researchers do this with a magnetic field that causes strontium atoms in an optical cavity to stop absorbing light and become transparent to laser light at one specific color. What happens is that the magnetic field creates a transparent window that serves as a gate to let only light of a single frequency pass through.

PI: James Thompson
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Laser Physics | Nanoscience
The Electron Stops When The Bands Play On
Published: June 20, 2017

The Kapteyn-Murnane group has come up with a novel way to use fast bursts of extreme ultraviolet light to capture how strongly electrons interact with each other in materials. This research is important for figuring out how quickly materials can change their state from insulating to conducting, or from magnetic to nonmagnetic. In the future such fast switching may lead to faster and more efficient nanoelectronics.

PI: Henry Kapteyn | PI: Margaret Murnane
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Atomic & Molecular Physics
The Ties That Bind
Published: May 22, 2017

JILA and NIST scientists are hot on the trail of understanding quantum correlations (or entanglement) among groups of quantum particles such as atoms or ions. Such particles are the building blocks of larger and larger chunks of matter that make up the everyday world. Interestingly, correlated atoms and ions exhibit exotic behaviors and accomplish tasks that are impossible for noninteracting particles. Therefore, understanding how entanglement is generated in those systems is not only central to comprehending our world, but also advancing technology.

PI: Ana Maria Rey
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Precision Measurement
The Chameleon Interferometer
Published: April 21, 2017

The Regal group recently met the challenge of measurements in an extreme situation with a device called an interferometer. The researchers succeeded by using creative alterations to the device itself and quantum correlations. Quantum correlations are unique, and often counterintuitive, quantum mechanical interactions that occur among quantum objects such as photons and atoms. The group exploited these interactions in the way they set up their interferometer, and improved its ability to measure tiny motions using photons (particles of light).

PI: Cindy Regal | PI: Konrad Lehnert
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Precision Measurement
The Hunt Is On For The Axion
Published: March 30, 2017

The first results are in from a new search for the axion, a hypothetical particle that may constitute dark matter. Researchers in the Haloscope At Yale Sensitive to Axion Cold Dark Matter (HAYSTAC) recently looked for evidence of the axion, but so far they have found none in the small 100 MHz frequency range between 5.7 and 5.8 GHz.

PI: Konrad Lehnert
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