Philosophical Society of Washington

Atoms, Molecules and Light

Physics Serving Society

Wendell T. Hill, III
University of Maryland

2168th Meeting Abstract
Friday, November 14, 2003 at 8:15 PM


Phenomena associated with daily human activities that involve the basic building blocks of the world around us – atoms, molecules and light – characterize the focus of Atomic, Molecular and Optical (AMO) science. The investigation of atoms, molecules and light comprises one of the oldest studies in physics. Optics, for example, dates back to Archimedes (and perhaps before) while significant advances in our understanding of atoms and molecules can be traced back more than a hundred years. Research in AMO science, as in any other area of physics, is driven by curiosity – a deep-seated yearning to discover what “things” are made of and how “things” work. The two-fold goal of AMO research is to probe and manipulate the behavior and properties of the constituents of material at the macroscopic, mesoscopic and atomic levels. This is possible by observing and exploiting the interaction of atoms and molecules with each other, with electrons, solids and liquids, and with external forces such as those associated with electric and magnetic fields produced by light. Since the invention of the laser, AMO science has generated enormous excitement while leading to truly remarkable discoveries that tantalize our intellect and improve our lives. From novel medical devices to the weirdness of the quantum world, this talk will review some recent advances in the field of Atomic, Molecular and Optical science.

About the Author:

Wendell T. Hill, III received his Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University and currently holds the rank of Professor in the Institute for Physical Science and Technology and the Department of Physics at the University of Maryland. Prior to joining the faculty at Maryland, he was an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow at NIST, Gaithersburg. His has held visiting positions at Instituto Venezalano de Investigaciones, Université de Paris, Orsay and at JILA, University of Colorado.

Hill's research interests range from ultrafast dynamics to and quantum information. Exploiting intense ultra-short laser pulses, Hill manipulates bond structures in molecules on a femtosecond time scale. An ability to essentially “freeze” the atomic motion, allows selective bond formation and destruction to be studied very precisely. Hill also employs carefully crafted hollow laser beams to create light tunnels for ultracold atoms. One day, atom tunnels might be used to create interferometers for neutral free atoms as well as transmission lines for “quantum-bits.”

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