Research Highlights

  • The Radical Comb-Over
    October 27, 2016
    PI(s): Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics, Chemical Physics, Laser Physics

    Using frequency comb spectroscopy, the Ye group has directly observed transient intermediate steps in a chemical reaction that plays a key role in combustion, atmospheric chemistry, and chemistry in the interstellar medium. The group was able to make this first-ever measurement because frequency combs generate a wide range of laser wavelengths in ultrafast pulses. These pulses made it possible for the researchers to “see” every step in the chemical reaction of OH + CO → HOCO → CO2 + H.

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  • The Ultimate Radar Detector
    September 26, 2016
    PI(s): David Nesbitt
    Topic(s): Chemical Physics

    The Nesbitt group has invented a nifty technique for exploring the physics and chemistry of a gas interacting with molecules on the surface of a liquid. The group originally envisioned the technique because it’s impossible to overestimate the importance of understanding surface chemistry. For instance, ozone depletion in the atmosphere occurs because of chemical reactions of hydrochloric acid on the surface of ice crystals and aerosols in the upper atmosphere. Interstellar chemistry takes place on the surface of tiny grains of dust.

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  • A Quantum Metal Model System
    September 26, 2016
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey
    Topic(s): Laser Physics

    Exciting new theory from the Rey group reveals the profound effects of electron interactions on the flow of electric currents in metals. Controlling currents of strongly interacting electrons is critical to the development of tomorrow’s advanced microelectronics systems, including spintronics devices that will process data faster, use less power than today’s technology, and operate in conditions where quantum effects predominate.

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  • Black Holes Can Have Their Stars and Eat Them Too
    August 11, 2016
    PI(s): Mitch Begelman
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    Fellow Mitch Begelman’s new theory says it’s possible to form stars while a supermassive black hole consumes massive amounts of stellar debris and other interstellar matter. What’s more, there’s evidence that this is exactly what happened around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way some 4–6 million years ago, according to Associate Fellow Ann-Marie Madigan.

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  • Black Hole Marvels
    August 11, 2016
    PI(s): Mitch Begelman, Phil Armitage
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    Graduate student Greg Salvesen, JILA Collaborator Jake Simon (Southwest Research Institute), and Fellows Phil Armitage and Mitch Begelman decided they wanted to figure out why swirling disks of gas (accretion disks) around black holes often appear strongly magnetized. They also wanted to figure out the mechanism that allowed this magnetization to persist over time.

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  • Modeling Lessons
    July 28, 2016
    PI(s): Heather Lewandowski
    Topic(s): Other

    Physics education researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Maine recently showed that students troubleshooting a malfunctioning electric circuit successfully tackled the problem by using models of how the circuit ought to work. The researchers confirmed this approach by analyzing videotapes of eight pairs of students talking aloud about their efforts to diagnose and repair a malfunctioning electric circuit. The circuits had not just one, but two problems. Both problems had to be corrected for the circuit to work properly.

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  • All Dressed Up and Ready to Probe
    July 28, 2016
    PI(s): Deborah Jin, Eric Cornell
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    Newly minted Ph.D. Ming-Guang Hu and his colleagues in the Jin and Cornell groups recently investigated immersing an impurity in a quantum bath consisting of a Bose-Einstein condensate, or BEC. The researchers expected the strong impurity-boson interactions to “dress” the impurity, i.e., cause it to get bigger and heavier. In the experiment, dressing the impurity resulted in it becoming a quasi particle called a Bose polaron.

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  • Some Assembly Required
    July 27, 2016
    PI(s): Phil Armitage
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    Fellow Phil Armitage and group collaborator Jacob Simon of the Southwest Research Institute are leading work to answer a central question about planet formation: How do pea- and pebble-sized objects orbiting within a protoplanetary disk evolve into asteroid-sized objects tens to hundreds of kilometers in size? This is an important question to answer because the eventual formation of planets around a star is mainly governed by the gravitational interactions of these primordial asteroids.

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  • A New Electron Movie, Thanks to the Tip
    July 21, 2016
    PI(s): Markus Raschke
    Topic(s): Nanoscience

    The Raschke group has created an ultrafast optical nanoscope based on a unique way of “nano” focusing the light to image the behavior of electrons on a thin gold film. The nanoscope is 1,000 times more powerful than conventional optical microscopes. It allows the researchers to investigate matter on its natural time and length scales, which are measured in femtoseconds and nanometers, respectively. This new technique may find application to studies of photosynthesis, solar cells, energy conversion and use, and other phenomena based on the transfer of electrons from molecule to molecule.

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  • How Cold Can a Tiny Drum Get?
    July 20, 2016
    PI(s): Cindy Regal, Konrad Lehnert
    Topic(s): Nanoscience, Precision Measurement, Quantum Information Science & Technology

    Bob Peterson and his colleagues in the Lehnert-Regal lab recently set out to try something that had never been done before: use laser cooling to systematically reduce the temperature of a tiny drum made of silicon nitride as low as allowed by the laws of quantum mechanics. Although laser cooling has become commonplace for atoms, researchers have only recently used lasers to cool tiny silicon nitride drums, stretched over a silicon frame, to their quantum ground state. Peterson and his team decided to see just how cold their drum could get via laser cooling.

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  • A Wrinkle in Time
    June 28, 2016
    PI(s): Judah Levine
    Topic(s): Precision Measurement

    Fellow Judah Levine recently presented a discussion of our understanding of time from antiquity to the present day in an insightful paper published in the April 2016 issue of the European Physical Journal H.

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  • The Great Escape
    June 02, 2016
    PI(s): Henry Kapteyn, Margaret Murnane, Murray Holland
    Topic(s): Laser Physics, Nanoscience

    The Kapteyn/Murnane group has measured how long it takes an electron born into an excited state inside a piece of nickel to escape from its birthplace. The electron’s escape is related to the structure of the metal. The escape is the fastest material process that has been measured before in the laboratory––on a time scale of a few hundred attoseconds, or 10-18 s. This groundbreaking experiment was reported online in Scienceon June 2, 2016. Also in Science on July 1, 2016, Uwe Bovensiepen and Manuel Ligges offered important insights into the unusual significance of this work. 

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  • Stalking the Wild Molecules
    May 04, 2016
    PI(s): Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    The Ye group just solved a major problem for using molecular fingerprinting techniques to identify large, complex molecules: The researchers used an infrared (IR) frequency comb laser to identify four different large or complicated molecules. The IR laser-light absorption technique worked well for the first time with these larger molecules because the group combined it with buffer gas cooling, which precooled their samples to just a few degrees above absolute zero. 

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  • Talking Atoms & Collective Laser Supercooling
    April 21, 2016
    PI(s): John (Jinx) Cooper, Murray Holland
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    Move over, single-atom laser cooling! The Holland theory group has just come up with a stunning idea for a new kind of laser cooling for use with ensembles of atoms that all “talk” to each other. In other words, the theory looks at laser cooling not from the perspective of cooling a single atom, but rather from the perspective of many atoms working together to rapidly cool themselves to a miniscule fraction of a degree above absolute zero.

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  • The Ultramodern Molecule Factory: I. Doublons
    April 20, 2016
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey, Deborah Jin, Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    The old JILA molecule factory (built in 2002) produced the world’s first ultracold polar molecules [potassium-rubidium (KRb)] in 2008. The old factory has been used since then for ultracold chemistry investigations and studies of the quantum behavior of ultracold molecules and the atoms that form them. The Jin-Ye group, which runs the molecule factory, is now wrapping up operations in the old factory with experiments designed to improve operations in the ultramodern factory, which is close to completion.

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  • Quantum Baseball
    March 21, 2016
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey, Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics, Precision Measurement

    The Ye and Rey groups have discovered the strange rules of quantum baseball in which strontium (Sr) atoms are the players, and photons of light are the balls. The balls control the players by not only getting the atoms excited, but also working together. The players coordinate throwing and catching the balls. While this is going on, the balls can change the state of the players! Sometimes the balls even escape the quantum baseball game altogether and land on detectors in the laboratory.

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  • Reconstruction
    February 10, 2016
    PI(s): Henry Kapteyn, Margaret Murnane
    Topic(s): Laser Physics

    Cong Chen and his colleagues in the Kapteyn/Murnane group have generated one of the most complex coherent light fields ever produced using attosecond (10-18 s) pulses of circularly polarized extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light. (The circularly polarized EUV light is shown as rotating blue sphere on the left of the picture. The complex coherent light field is illustrated with the teal, lilac, and purple structures along the driving laser beam (wide red line).

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  • Creative Adventures in Coupling
    January 28, 2016
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey, Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics, Quantum Information Science & Technology

    The Rey and Ye groups are in the midst of an extended collaboration on using the Ye group’s strontium (Sr) lattice clock for studies of spin-orbit coupling in pancake-like layers of cold Sr atoms. Spin-orbit coupling means an atom’s motion is correlated with its spin. It occurs in everyday materials when negatively charged electrons move in response to electromagnetic fields inside a crystal.

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  • We’ve Looked at Clouds from Both Sides Now
    December 08, 2015
    PI(s): Jeffrey Linsky
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    In 2008, Fellow Jeff Linsky and his colleague Seth Redfield of Wesleyan University used spectral information gathered by the Hubble Space Telescope to figure out that the solar system is surrounded by 15 nearby clouds of warm gas, all within 50 light years of the Sun. In 2014, Cécile Gry of Aix-Marseille Université (France) and Edward Jenkins of Princeton University Observatory analyzed the same data, but came up with a much simpler picture of the local interstellar medium, or LISM.

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  • Back to the Future: The Ultraviolet Surprise
    December 03, 2015
    PI(s): Agnieszka Jaron-Becker, Andreas Becker, Henry Kapteyn, Margaret Murnane
    Topic(s): Laser Physics

    Imagine laser-like x-ray beams that can “see” through materials––all the way into the heart of atoms. Or, envision an exquisitely controlled four-dimensional x-ray microscope that can capture electron motions or watch chemical reactions as they happen. Such exquisite imaging may soon be possible with laser-like x-rays produced on a laboratory optical table. These possibilities have opened up because of new research from the Kapteyn/Murnane group.

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  • Dancing to the Quantum Drum Song
    November 30, 2015
    PI(s): Konrad Lehnert
    Topic(s): Nanoscience, Quantum Information Science & Technology

    In the future, quantum microwave networks may handle quantum information transfer via optical fibers or microwave cables. The evolution of a quantum microwave network will rely on innovative microwave circuits currently being developed and characterized by the Lehnert group. Applications for this innovative technology could one day include quantum computing, converters that transform microwave signals to optical light while preserving any encoded quantum information, and advanced quantum electronics devices.

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  • A Thousand Splendid Pairs
    November 06, 2015
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey, Deborah Jin, Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    JILA’s cold molecule collaboration (Jin and Ye Groups, with theory support from the Rey Group) recently made a breakthrough in its efforts to use ultracold polar molecules to study the complex physics of large numbers of interacting quantum particles. By closely packing the molecules into a 3D optical lattice (a sort of “crystal of light”), the team was able to create the first “highly degenerate” gas of ultracold molecules.

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  • Natural Born Entanglers
    November 02, 2015
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey, Cindy Regal
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics, Quantum Information Science & Technology

    The Regal and Rey groups have come up with a novel way to generate and propagate quantum entanglement [1], a key feature required for quantum computing. Quantum computing requires that bits of information called qubits be moved from one location to another, be available to interact in prescribed ways, and then be isolated for storage or subsequent interactions. The group showed that single neutral atoms carried in tiny traps called optical tweezers may be a promising technology for the job!

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  • Born of Frustration
    October 21, 2015
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    Scientists often use ultracold atoms to study the behavior of atoms and electrons in solids and liquids (a.k.a. condensed matter). Their goal is to uncover microscopic quantum behavior of these condensed matter systems and develop a controlled environment to model materials with new and advanced functionality.

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  • The Land of Enhancement: AFM Spectroscopy
    October 16, 2015
    PI(s): Thomas Perkins
    Topic(s): Nanoscience

    The Perkins Group has demonstrated a 50-to-100 times improvement in the time resolution for studying the details of protein folding and unfolding on a commercial Atomic Force Microscope (AFM). This enhanced real time probing of protein folding is revealing details in these complex processes never seen before. This substantial enhancement in AFM force spectroscopy may one day have powerful clinical applications, including in the development of drugs to treat disease caused by misfolded proteins. Misfolded proteins are implicated in such fatal maladies as Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease and mad cow disease, both of which are caused by prions.

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  • Turbulence: An Unexpected Journey
    October 16, 2015
    PI(s): Phil Armitage
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    Fellow Phil Armitage and his collaborator Jake Simon of the Southwest Research Institute recently conducted a theoretical study of turbulence in the outer reaches of an accretion disk around HD 163296, a nearby young star. Meanwhile, the Atacama large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in northern Chile observed the same accretion disk. There were intriguing and unexpected differences between what the theory predicted and what the observation revealed.

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  • From BEC to Breathing Forever
    October 05, 2015
    PI(s): Eric Cornell, Heather Lewandowski
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    It took Eric Cornell three years to build JILA’s first Top Trap with his own two hands in the lab. The innovative trap relied primarily on magnetic fields and gravity to trap ultracold atoms. In 1995, Cornell and his colleagues used the Top Trap to make the world’s first Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), an achievement that earned Cornell and Carl Wieman the Nobel Prize in 2001.

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  • The Guiding Light
    September 21, 2015
    PI(s): Henry Kapteyn, Margaret Murnane
    Topic(s): Laser Physics

    The Kapteyn/Murnane group, with Visiting Fellow Charles Durfee, has figured out how to use visible lasers to control x-ray light! The new method not only preserves the beautiful coherence of laser light, but also makes an array of perfect x-ray laser beams with controlled direction and polarization. Such pulses may soon be used for observing chemical reactions or investigating the electronic motions inside atoms. They are also well suited for studying magnetic materials and chiral molecules like proteins or DNA that come in left- and right-handed versions.

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  • An Array of Possibilities
    August 19, 2015
    PI(s): Cindy Regal
    Topic(s): Quantum Information Science & Technology

    Graduate student Brian Lester of the Regal group has taken an important step toward building larger, more complex systems from single-atom building blocks. His accomplishment opens the door to advances in neutral-atom quantum computing, investigations of the interplay of spin and motion as well as the synthesis of novel single molecules from different atoms.

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  • Interstellar Spaghetti, with Meatballs Inside
    August 16, 2015
    PI(s): Mitch Begelman
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    When an ordinary star like our Sun wanders very close to a supermassive black hole, it’s very bad news for the star. The immense gravitational pull of the black hole (i.e., tidal forces) overcomes the forces of gravity holding the star together and literally pulls the star apart. Over time, the black hole swallows half of the star stuff, while the other half escapes into the interstellar medium. This destructive encounter between a supermassive black hole and a star is known as a tidal disruption event.

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  • Beautiful & Twisted
    August 14, 2015
    PI(s): Mitch Begelman, Phil Armitage
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    Ever wondered how magnetic pressure alone might be able to maintain the structure of an accretion disk around a black hole in an x-ray binary system? Fellow Mitch Begelman recently gave the idea a lot of thought. And, in the process of working on the idea with Fellow Phil Armitage and Chris Reynolds of the University of Maryland, Begelman came up with a new model for accretion disks around black holes in x-ray binary systems, such as the one shown in the picture.

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  • Lattice Light and the Chips
    August 10, 2015
    PI(s): Dana Anderson
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    Compact and transportable optical lattices are coming soon to a laboratory near you, thanks to the Anderson group and its spin-off company, ColdQuanta. A new robust on-chip lattice system (which measures 2.3 cm on a side) is now commercially available. The chip comes with a miniature vacuum system, lasers, and mounting platform.

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  • Multitalented Lyman-α
    July 16, 2015
    PI(s): Jeffrey Linsky
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    For astrophysicists like Fellow Jeff Linsky, the Lyman-α spectral line of atomic hydrogen is a powerful tool for investigating the stellar winds emitted by stars, the deuterium/hydrogen (D/H) ratio in the Galaxy, the excited states of hydrogen molecules and carbon monoxide in the environments around young stars, and photochemical processes that create oxygen in the atmospheres of planets around other stars, or exoplanets.

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  • Custom-Made RNA
    May 11, 2015
    PI(s): David Nesbitt
    Topic(s): Biophysics

    A wildly successful JILA (Nesbitt Group)-NIH collaboration is opening the door to studies of RNA behavior, including binding, folding and other factors that affect structural changes of RNA from living organisms. Such structural changes determine RNA enzymatic functions, including the regulation of genetic information.

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  • Every Generation Needs a New Revolution
    April 30, 2015
    PI(s): Margaret Murnane
    Topic(s): Laser Physics

    For decades after the invention of the red ruby laser in 1960, bright laser-like beams were confined to the infrared, visible, and ultraviolet region of the spectrum. Today there’s an exciting revolution afoot: new coherent x-ray beams are now practical, including the EUV beams gracing the cover of the May 1, 2015, special issue of Science honoring the International Year of Light. The same issue features an article entitled “Beyond Crystallography: Diffractive Imaging Using Coherent X-ray Light Sources” that celebrates the revolutionary advances in both large- and small-scale coherent x-ray sources that are transforming imaging in the 21st century.

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  • About Time
    April 21, 2015
    PI(s): Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Precision Measurement

    The Ye group has just improved the accuracy of the world’s best optical atomic clock by another factor of three and set a new record for clock stability. The accuracy and stability of the improved strontium lattice optical clocks is now about 2 x 10-18, or the equivalent of not varying from perfect time by more than one second in 15 billion years—more than the age of the Universe. Clocks like the Ye Group optical lattice clocks are now so exquisitely precise that they may have outpaced traditional applications for timekeeping such as navigation (GPS) and communications.

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  • A Bug’s Life
    April 20, 2015
    PI(s): Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    The Ye Group recently investigated what first appeared to be a “bug” in an experiment and made an unexpected discovery about a new way to generate high-harmonic light using molecular gases rather than gases of noble atoms. Graduate student Craig Benko and his colleagues in the Ye group were studying the interaction of light from an extreme ultraviolet (XUV) frequency comb with molecules of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas (N2O), when they noticed unusual perturbations in the laser spectrum.

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  • Come Close to Me
    March 23, 2015
    PI(s): Henry Kapteyn, Margaret Murnane
    Topic(s): Nanoscience

    One of the great challenges in the semiconductor and electronics industries is that as nanoscale features get smaller and processes get faster, enormous amounts of heat need to be quickly carried away from the nanostructures. The Kapteyn/Murnane group has made the counter-intuitive discovery that it is easier to cool these nanostructures when they are arranged closely together. The researchers also developed a theory to explain this unexpected new behavior.

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  • Gamma Ray Exposé
    March 11, 2015
    PI(s): Mitch Begelman
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    Supermassive black holes at the center of active galaxies are known as blazars when they are extremely bright and produce powerful jets of matter and radiation visible along the line of sight to the Earth. Blazars can appear up to a thousand times more luminous than ordinary galaxies, and their associated jets are so powerful they can travel millions of light years across the Universe. Blazar jets produce flares of high-energy gamma rays that are detected by ground- and space-based observatories.

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  • An Ultrafast Photoelectric Adventure
    March 02, 2015
    PI(s): Agnieszka Jaron-Becker, Andreas Becker
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    The photoelectric effect has been well known since the publication of Albert Einstein’s 1905 paper explaining that quantized particles of light can stimulate the emission of electrons from materials. The nature of this quantum mechanical effect is closely related to the question how much time it might take for an electron to leave a material such as a helium atom.

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  • Terms of Entanglement
    February 27, 2015
    PI(s): Deborah Jin
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics, Quantum Information Science & Technology

    When the Rey theory group first modeled a quantum system at JILA, it investigated the interactions of strontium atoms in the Ye group’s strontium-lattice clock. The quantum behavior of these collective interactions was relatively simple to model. However, the group has now successfully tackled some more complicated systems, including the ultracold polar KRb molecule experiment run by the Jin and Ye groups.

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  • Terms of Entanglement
    February 27, 2015
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics, Quantum Information Science & Technology

    When the Rey theory group first modeled a quantum system at JILA, it investigated the interactions of strontium atoms in the Ye group’s strontium-lattice clock. The quantum behavior of these collective interactions was relatively simple to model. However, the group has now successfully tackled some more complicated systems, including the ultracold polar KRb molecule experiment run by the Jin and Ye groups. In the process, the group has developed a new theory that will open the door to probing quantum spin behavior in real materials; atomic, molecular and optical gases; and other complex systems. The new theory promises important insights in different areas of physics, quantum information science, and biology.

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  • Mutant Chronicles
    January 20, 2015
    PI(s): Ralph Jimenez
    Topic(s): Biophysics

    Because red fluorescent proteins are important tools for cellular imaging, the Jimenez group is working to improve them to further biophysics research. The group’s quest for a better red-fluorescent protein began with a computer simulation of a protein called mCherry that fluoresces red light after laser illumination. The simulation identified a floppy (i.e., less stable) portion of the protein “barrel” enclosing the red-light emitting compound, or chromophore. The thought was that when the barrel flopped open, it would allow oxygen in to degrade the chromophore, thus destroying its ability to fluoresce.

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  • Metamorphosis
    January 07, 2015
    PI(s): Deborah Jin
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    A grand challenge of ultracold physics is figuring out how fermions become bosons. This is an important question because the tiniest quantum particles of matter are all fermions. However, these fermions can form larger chunks of matter, such as atoms and molecules, which can be either fermions or bosons.

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  • The Polarized eXpress
    December 10, 2014
    PI(s): Henry Kapteyn, Margaret Murnane
    Topic(s): Laser Physics

    Until recently, researchers who wanted to understand how magnetic materials work had to reserve time on a large, stadium-sized X-ray machine called a synchrotron. Synchrotrons can produce X-ray beams that can be sculpted very precisely to capture how the spins in magnetic materials work together to give us beautiful and useful magnetic properties – for example to store data in a computer hard drive. But now, thanks to Patrik Grychtol and his colleagues in the Kapteyn/Murnane group, there’s a way to conduct this kind of research in a small university laboratory.

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  • Exciting Adventures in Coupling
    October 31, 2014
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    New theory describing the spin behavior of ultracold polar molecules is opening the door to explorations of exciting, new physics in JILA’s cold molecular lab, operated by the Jin and Ye groups. According to the Rey theory group and its collaborators, ultracold dipolar molecules can do even more interesting things than swapping spins.

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  • The Quantum Identity Crisis
    October 14, 2014
    PI(s): James Thompson, Murray Holland
    Topic(s): Quantum Information Science & Technology

    Dynamical phase transitions in the quantum world are wildly noisy and chaotic. They don’t look anything like the phase transitions we observe in our everyday world. In Colorado, we see phase transitions caused by temperature changes all the time: snow banks melting in the spring, water boiling on the stove, slick spots on the sidewalk after the first freeze. Quantum phase transitions happen, too, but not because of temperature changes. Instead, they occur as a kind of quantum “metamorphosis” when a system at zero temperature shifts between completely distinct forms.

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  • When You Feast Upon a Star
    August 25, 2014
    PI(s): Phil Armitage
    Topic(s): Astrophysics

    A Be star is a luminous, blue B-type star with distinctive spectral lines that can provide two types of feasts (tasty snacks or full-scale banquets) for a former companion star in a binary system. The feasting begins when the companion star goes supernova and becomes a neutron star or, more rarely, a black hole. Typically, the companion blows up with enough force to kick itself into an eccentric (elliptical) orbit that is misaligned with respect to the Be star’s orbit.

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  • Atoms, Atoms, Frozen Tight in the Crystals of the Light, What Immortal Hand or Eye Could Frame Thy Fearful Symmetry?
    August 18, 2014
    PI(s): Ana Maria Rey, Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    Symmetries described by SU(N) group theory made it possible for physicists in the 1950s to explain how quarks combine to make protons and neutrons and JILA theorists in 2013 to model the behavior of atoms inside a laser. Now, the Ye group has observed a manifestation of SU(N≤10) symmetry in the magnetic behavior of strontium-87 (87Sr) atoms trapped in crystals of light created by intersecting laser beams inside a quantum simulator (originally developed as an optical atomic clock).

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  • Flaws
    August 01, 2014
    PI(s): Markus Raschke
    Topic(s): Nanoscience

    The Raschke group recently came up with a clever way to detect folds and grain boundaries in graphene. a sheet made of a single layer of carbon atoms.Such defects stop the flow of electrons in graphene and are a big headache for engineers working on touch screens and other electronic devices made of this material.

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  • Quantum Entanglement
    July 13, 2014
    PI(s): James Thompson
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics

    The spooky quantum property of entanglement is set to become a powerful tool in precision measurement, thanks to researchers in the Thompson group. Entanglement means that the quantum states of something physical—two atoms, two hundred atoms, or two million atoms—interact and retain a connection, even over long distances.

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  • The Little Shop of Atoms
    June 26, 2014
    PI(s): Cindy Regal
    Topic(s): Atomic & Molecular Physics, Precision Measurement

    Graduate student Adam Kaufman and his colleagues in the Regal and Rey groups have demonstrated a key first step in assembling quantum matter one atom at a time. Kaufman accomplished this feat by laser-cooling two atoms of rubidium (87Rb) trapped in separate laser beam traps called optical tweezers. Then, while maintaining complete control over the atoms to be sure they were identical in every way, he moved the optical tweezers closer and closer until they were about 600 nm apart. At this distance, the trapped atoms were close enough to “tunnel” their way over to the other laser beam trap if they were so inclined.

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  • Invisible Rulers of Light
    June 22, 2014
    PI(s): Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Laser Physics, Precision Measurement

    The Ye group has not only made two invisible rulers of extreme ultraviolet (XUV) light, but also figured out how to observe them with ordinary laboratory electronics. With this setup, the researchers were able to prove that the two rulers had extraordinarily long phase-coherence time. This feat is so profound, it is nearly certain to transform the investigation of matter with extreme ultraviolet light, according to Ye’s colleagues in precision measurement and laser science. This research was reported online in Nature Photonics this week.

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  • Sky Clocks and the World of Tomorrow
    June 13, 2014
    PI(s): Jun Ye
    Topic(s): Precision Measurement

    Imagine a network of multiple clocks orbiting the Earth, not only reporting down to us, but also collaborating quantum mechanically among themselves to operate precisely in sync as a single global superclock, or world clock. The world clock is delivering the most precise timekeeping in all of human history—to every member nation regardless of politics, alliances, or behavior on the ground. Moreover, the world clock itself is virtually immune to sabotage and can peer under the surface of the Earth to uncover its detailed composition or out into space to reveal a better understanding of fundamental physical principles such as quantum mechanics and gravity. 

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  • The Long and the Short of Soft X-rays
    May 27, 2014
    PI(s): Andreas Becker, Henry Kapteyn, Margaret Murnane
    Topic(s): Laser Physics

    Mid-infrared (mid-IR) laser light is accomplishing some remarkable things at JILA. This relatively long-wavelength light (2–4 µm), when used to drive a process called high-harmonic generation, can produce bright beams of soft x-rays with all their punch packed into isolated ultrashort bursts. And, all this takes place in a tabletop-size apparatus. The soft x-rays bursts have pulse durations measured in tens to hundreds of attoseconds (10-18 s).

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  • Crowd-Folding
    May 22, 2014
    PI(s): David Nesbitt
    Topic(s): Biophysics

    Biomolecules may not always behave the same way in test tubes as they do in living cells, a fact underscored by important new work by former research associate Nick Dupuis, graduate student Erik Holmstrom, and Fellow David Nesbitt. The researchers found that under crowded conditions that begin to mimic those found in cells, single RNA molecules folded 35 times faster than in the dilute solutions typically used in test-tube experiments.

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  • The SINS of Markus Raschke
    May 07, 2014
    PI(s): Markus Raschke
    Topic(s): Nanoscience

    The Markus Raschke group has come up with an innovative way that may one day allow it to peer inside superconductors, new materials for solar cells, or even a single cell and identify the inner workings of these complex systems. The new method is able to determine where the different chemical constituents are located and how their spatial distribution determines their function.

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  • The Measure of Small Things
    April 23, 2014
    PI(s): Thomas Perkins
    Topic(s): Nanoscience

    Fellow Tom Perkins’ group is significantly closer to realizing its long-standing dream of using atomic force microscopy (AFM) to study how membrane proteins fold and unfold. Historically, scientists have used AFM to measure the mechanical forces needed to unfold individual proteins and the resulting increase in their lengths. However, the limitations of AFM itself have prevented researchers from watching the unfolding process in detail.

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  • The Unfolding Story of Telomerase
    April 17, 2014
    PI(s): David Nesbitt
    Topic(s): Biophysics

    Graduate student Erik Holmstrom and Fellow David Nesbitt have applied their laboratory research on the rates of RNA folding and unfolding to the medically important enzyme telomerase. Telomerase employs both protein and RNA components to lengthen chromosomes, which are shortened every time they are copied.

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  • Good Vibrations: The Experiment
    March 19, 2014
    PI(s): Cindy Regal, Konrad Lehnert
    Topic(s): Quantum Information Science & Technology

    The Regal-Lehnert collaboration has just taken a significant step towards the goal of one day building a quantum information network. Large-scale fiber-optic networks capable of preserving fragile quantum states (which encode information) will be necessary to realize the benefits of superfast quantum computing.

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