Philosophical Society of Washington

Atoms and Light: From Laser Cooled Atoms to Atom Lasers

Paul D. Lett
Atomic Physics Division, NIST

2131st Meeting Abstract
Friday, April 27, 2001 at 8:15 P.M.


Although many of us think of lasers as being sources of heat - for cutting or for cauterizing wounds - if you are careful, you can arrange for a laser to very effectively remove heat from a cloud of atoms. The field of laser cooling and trapping of neutral atoms has developed into an exciting branch of atomic physics and was recognized by the award of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics. The techniques developed have enabled a wide variety of experiments to be performed where the motion of individual atoms is quantum-mechanical, the atoms have a wavelength on the order of that of visible light, and interactions with light can dramatically affect the atomic motion. Using evaporative cooling, atoms can be made to undergo a "Bose-Einstein condensation" transition and this, in turn, has allowed the construction of "atom lasers". We will review the basic light forces and the techniques used in laser cooling and trapping and discuss some applications, such as atomic fountain clocks and the possibility of quantum computing with neutral atoms.

About the Author:

Paul Lett received his B.S. from Marquette University (1980) and his M.A. (1982) and Ph.D. (1986) from University of Rochester, Rochester, NY. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow, Electricity Division, National Bureau of Standards (now NIST) (1986-1989). Presently employed as a Physicist, Laser Cooling Group, Atomic Physics Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology (1989-present). His research interests include experimental quantum optics and laser, atomic, and molecular physics, especially laser cooling. Present research activities involve the cooling and trapping of neutral atoms, quantum information/computing with neutral atoms, and the study of ultracold atomic collisions and photoassociation spectroscopy. Honors include the NIST Sigma Xi Outstanding Young Scientist Award, (1993), the Department of Commerce Silver Medal, (1996), the NIST Equal Employment Opportunity/Diversity Award, (1999), and the Arthur S. Flemming Award, (1999). He is a member of the Optical Society of America and a fellow of the American Physical Society. He is also Co-director of the "SURFing the Physics Laboratory" program at NIST, a summer undergraduate research program that is part of the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates network. (1996- )

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