Effective September 1, 2011, the NSF grant supporting the Center for Ultracold Atoms has been renewed for five more years, taking the Center into its 12th year of ongoing work, in collaboration with Harvard, in the discovery of how natural and artificial materials work, to understand complex quantum systems and to explore the basic physics and potential applications of engineered quantum systems. The ultimate hope of the Center is to lay groundwork for the advent of the design of new forms of matter and possibly new paths to information processing. In this quest, the center’s focus – strongly interacting systems – presents both significant scientific challenges and the highest potential rewards.

Ultracold atoms provide a promising new medium for this type of exploration because they can be controlled and manipulated with a precision previously not possible, and also can be observed with clarity, thanks to a variety of highly engineered systems. The CUA has two main thrusts for its work in the next five years: work with man-body systems and strongly correlated states; and quantum coherent control of few-body systems. In the first instance, the observation of strongly correlated systems can be created by engineering the interactions and motion of large clouds of dilute ultracold gases, a so-called top-down approach.

The bottom-up approach, or the second thrust, uses coherent quantum control of individual particles, and builds increasingly more complex quantum systems from these particles. In its next phase, the CUA will add new atom-like and hybrid quantum systems. This will include the study of atom-like solid-state impurities, nanoscale photonic and plasmonic cavities and wave guides, and superconducting and nano-mechanical resonators to obtain quantum control and manipulation at a new, previously inaccessible level. In all aspects of their work, CUA investigators can precisely prepare and manipulate these particles using the concepts and tools of atomic physics.

The CUA’s continued observations of atoms and atom-like particles in an ultra-cold environment –beginning with the formation of slow-moving, identical atoms in the Bose-Einstein condensate, known as BEC – often involves the use of  puffs of gas that are a million times thinner than air to affect the behavior of such particles. This is only one fantastic aspect of the effort to use ultracold atoms as easily controlled model systems to study the properties of all types of complex materials, such as high-temperature superconductors and novel magnetic materials that could have applications one day in data storage and improving energy efficiency.

The CUA relies on a highly collaborative group of investigators. Paola Cappellaro, MIT Assistant Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering, leads a group studying coherent control, magnetic resonance and quantum information science; potential applications range from quantum information science to quantum enhanced precision metrology. She is a close collaborator with Mikhail Lukin, Hongkun Park and Susanne Yelin to develop control techniques for strongly coupled spin system in the solid state. Isaac Chuang is MIT Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and of Physics, who leads a group doing both experimental and theoretical research in quantum information science. He closely collaborates with Vladan Vuletic in exploring the interface between trapped ions, condensed matter systems and resonators; and share many theoretical topics with Martin Zwierlein’s group and with Susanne Yelin.

Eugene Demler, Harvard Professor of Physics, leads a group doing theoretical research in strongly correlated many-body systems, including ultracold atoms and molecules and trapped ions. He regular interfaces with the experimental groups of John Doyle, Markus Greiner (both at Harvard), Wolfgang Ketterle, Vladan Vuletic and Martin Zwierlein. With Mikhail Lukin, he is overseeing theoretical work on quantum dynamics of many-body systems. John Doyle, Harvard Professor of Physics, co-directs the Center with Wolfgang Ketterle and Mikhail Lukin. His research in controlling and studying ultracold polar molecules brings him into collaboration with Ketterle, Chuang, and Demler.  Markus Greiner is Harvard Associate Professor of Physics who, while advising two labs on ultracold bosons and fermions, is focused on single site addressing and readout and on quantum magnetism in optical lattices. He has frequent interactions with all CUA PIs.

Wolfgang Ketterle, MIT Professor of Physics, with David Pritchard, advises four labs at MIT working on ultracold bosons and fermions with strong interactions in optical lattices. These labs share ideas with Greiner and Zwierlein, as well as with the theory group of Eugene Demler. Ketterle co-advises one of the cryogenic CUA labs at Harvard with John Doyle. As the CUA director, he coordinates all administrative aspects of the Center. Mikhail Lukin is Harvard Professor of Physics and Co-Director of the CUA, and advises on theoretical and experimental research efforts on quantum control of atom-like systems and exploration of the cold atom-nanoscience interface. Hongkun Park, Harvard Professor of Chemistry and of Physics, develops experimental strategies for coupling photonic crystal cavities and plasmonic nanowires with diamond nitrogen vacancy (NV) centers in close association with Lukin.

Vladan Vuletic, MIT Professor of Physics, collaborates with Lukin on strongly interacting polaritons in a Rydberg gas and with Chuang, Lukin and Yelin on photonic quantum gates using ion crystals coupled to an optical resonator. Susanne Yelin, Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut, works on theoretical quantum optics with atomic molecular and solid state systems as well as quantum information systems. Her role in the next phase will be to offer theoretical support on ion hybrid systems, polar molecules and quantum optics in dipolar gases in collaborations with Cappellaro, Chuang, Greiner and Vuletic.

Martin Zwierlein, MIT Assistant Professor of Physics, advises two labs working on ultracold Fermi and Bose-Fermi mixtures with strong interactions, collaborating with Ketterle and Greiner, the theory group of Demler, and with Chuang in the realization of atomtronics – replacing electrons with atoms in computations.

Related Links:

MIT–Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms