Campus & Community

Harvard, M.I.T. team up on atom research

2 min read

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) have created the Center for Ultracold Atoms to tap the strengths of researchers at the two universities and engage a wider community of about 100 students, postdoctoral researchers, and faculty.

The center, created with sponsorship from the National Science Foundation, will consist of two laboratories, one at Harvard and one at M.I.T. The center’s work will be conducted through collaborations among the project’s eight principal investigators – four at each university.

“The center is important because a lot of atomic physics has moved to the point where there’s things we want to do beyond the ability of a single principal investigator,” said Harvard physics professor and center co-director John Doyle. “This is absolute collaboration. The only experiments will be collaborations between at least two principal investigators in the center.”

Though ground has just been broken for the Harvard lab, which will be an addition to the Lyman Laboratory, work has already begun in temporary labs in Lyman, Doyle said.

“We’re up and running,” Doyle said. “But we’ll be doing a lot more in the future than is being done now.” Among the center’s goals will be building intense atom lasers, according to Doyle and Daniel Kleppner, Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics at M.I.T. and co-director of the center. The lasers would be used to study superfluidity and to take very precise measurements in particle physics experiments.

“With the discovery of atomic Bose-Einstein condensates, a new field of exploration in quantum fluids was suddenly opened, providing new opportunities to study the nature of quantum systems. In addition, the condensates can provide intense sources of coherent atoms, as was dramatically demonstrated in the development of the atom laser,” Kleppner said. “More or less in parallel with this advance, the field of atom optics was created, in which atom waves are manipulated much like light waves.

“By merging these developments, atom lasers can provide sources for atom optics that are many millions of times brighter than conventional atom sources, with an impact on atom optics somewhat comparable to that of the impact of the laser on ordinary optics. Such an achievement would provide new probes of matter and new opportunities for ultrasensitive measurements,” he said.

The center will also sponsor workshops, conferences, and visits by students, postdoctoral researchers, and senior researchers.