What’s Cooler than Being Cool? Ultracold Physics!

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APS Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (DAMOP)

June 4, 2012 to June 8, 2012

Orange County, CA

Meeting host:

American Physical Society


Patrick Donnan

SPS Chapter:

On the last night of this year's DAMOP conference, the speaker came from beyond the grave. In a recording made before he passed away last year, Norman Ramsey talked about his interactions with famous scientists such as Rutherford, Thompson, Rabi, and Dirac. It was fascinating to hear about the personalities and quirks of scientists whose names often remain associated with concepts in textbooks but never quite come to life. Ramsey, a Nobel laureate, was no slouch himself. His work contributed to the development of MRI machines and GPS systems. He had his share of quirks as well and was a very entertaining lecturer. The previous night had featured a session commemorating his contributions to AMO physics, and it was great to see the community honor the passing of one of its greatest.

DAMOP is a conference largely composed of younger scientists and has a tutorial on the first day to orient graduate students new to the field. The conference was very lively; there were always physicists gathered in the lobby, discussing their research and the talks they had attended or were planning to attend.

Philip Burke of Queen’s University Belfast gave a talk about R-matrix collision calculations that was particularly of note; he could not attend due to health issues and instead presented a recorded talk. I emailed him during the conference to thank him for going the extra mile to present, and he responded within a day, sending me a long list of papers about the R-matrix method. Gestures like this help make DAMOP much less imposing for younger students, especially when a lot of the material is going right over your head!

Other talks I enjoyed included those of Charles Adams, Ian Spielman, and Rudi Grimm. Charles Adams from Durham University spoke about electromagnetically induced transparency in frozen Rydberg gases, a phenomenon that has great potential for use in quantum information science. Ian Spielman of the Joint Quantum Institute, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the University of Maryland talked about recent breakthroughs in spin-orbit coupling in ultracold atomic systems. These systems provide a great way to test condensed matter theories in the highly controllable environment of atomic ensembles. Lastly, Rudi Grimm of the University of Innsbruck discussed universality and its relation to his work in ultracold cesium. Universality is a fascinating phenomenon that allows you to work out certain properties of how few-body systems behave, regardless of what the actual bodies are. You just need to know if they are bosons or fermions.

Of particular note to undergrads is the special undergraduate session at DAMOP. Undergraduates apply to speak, and six are selected to give talks that are slightly longer than contributed conference talks. This year’s undergraduate session was incredibly diverse. It opened with one of last year’s LeRoy Apker Award winners, Bethany Jochim. She gave a great invited prize talk on the dissociation of the molecule NO2+. I was very excited to be presenting my work on calculations of antihydrogen spectroscopy in this session with other undergrad researchers in my field. The work I presented was part of a larger effort by the Antihydrogen Laser Physics Apparatus (ALPHA) Collaboration that resulted in the first measurements of the antihydrogen spectrum. I made it through my talk, and, perhaps more importantly, I wasn’t drilled in the post-talk question session! The DAMOP community supports its undergrad speakers; quite a few people came up to me afterward with complimentary remarks. A lunch social was also provided for the presenters. Comparing this experience to other experiences I've had at universities across the United States, I learned that universality isn’t restricted to atoms!

There is lots of exciting research going on in AMO physics today. I’d highly recommend that undergrads trying to figure out what subfield of physics they want to enter give AMO a look. The community is lively and highly receptive, and the excitement is infectious. Personally, I hope to be attending DAMOP meetings for years to come. //

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