The primary theme of the JILA PFC is to address the challenge of bridging the gap from few-body physics to many-body physics through quantum control. The central scientific objective is to extend the remarkable level of control and understanding that physicists have for few-body systems to many-body quantum systems. Quantum systems made up of many particles and their interactions play an essential role in much of physics, including condensed matter physics, material physics, nuclear physics, high-energy particle physics, astrophysics, biophysics, and chemical physics. The JILA PFC will focus upon the challenge of controlling and understanding multi-particle quantum systems using the tools and ideas of atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) physics, which, ironically, is a field of physics for which many-body physics has not traditionally been emphasized. AMO physics is in the midst of a revolution, evidenced, for example, by the remarkable accomplishments in recent years of experiments on ultracold gases, ultrafast laser technology, and ultraprecise spectroscopy. This revolution affords a new approach for confronting the behavior of complex multi-particle systems using control at the quantum level.

In the period 2011- 2016, the JILA PFC investigators will apply the tools of modern AMO physics to tackle the challenge of bridging the gap from few-body to many-body quantum physics from both sides, using cutting-edge techniques to study few-body problems beyond current understanding and many-particle ensembles in regimes beyond the limits of a mean-field description. Specific questions to be addressed are (1) What new insights can one bring to quantum many-body physics using ultracold atom and molecule gases as model systems? (2) Can one extend AMO's measurement and control techniques to create new types of many-body systems using coherent light-matter coupling? (3) Can one understand and address, in the few- to many-body problem, the physics of molecule formation and, more generally, chemical reactions by applying cutting-edge technologies to control and probe simple molecular systems? (4) What are potential high impact research directions that are closely tied to this work? The research will take place at JILA, a multidisciplinary research institute located on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, and builds upon the extensive results achieved under the present PFC funding. Significant results in nanokelvin molecular physics, in non-classical behavior of nano-oscillators and microwave fields, and in various probes of solid and liquid dynamics across timescales that span twelve orders of magnitude, all set the stage for rapid future progress in four major activities:.

Major Activity 1: Building complex matter from the ground up.

Work in this area will explore the rich phenomena arising in novel quantum many-body systems that are assembled from ultracold atoms and molecules. This major activity, which has strong connections to condensed matter physics, will include research in dipolar molecular quantum gases and strongly interacting atomic quantum gases. Specific research goals include exploring the boundary between gaseous and liquid behavior in gases of strongly interacting particles, and realizing novel states of quantum matter using the long-range and anisotropic interactions between ultracold polar molecules.

Major Activity 2: Engineering quantum many-body systems using light-matter coupling.

This activity will extend quantum control to increasingly complex systems by exploiting coherent light matter interactions. Projects will explore collective light emission from cold atoms, the quantum motion of nano-mechanical oscillators, and light-induced coherence in material systems. An example project is an ambitious effort to map non-classical photon states in the microwave onto corresponding states in optical modes and vice versa, using a nanomechanical "diving board" as the coupling medium.

Major Activity 3: Confronting molecular transformation.

At the most basic level, reactions proceed via the interaction between electrons and the coupling between electronic and nuclear motion. JILA PFC investigators will explore the physics of reactions at this fundamental level, with the goal of understanding, and learning to control, energy flow in small systems such as triatomic and tetratomic molecules. They will focus on three projects: studying cold and ultracold reactive molecular scattering, probing time-resolved nuclear and electronic dynamics, and developing coherent UV to IR molecular spectroscopy.

Major Activity 4: Exploring high impact synergistic research directions.

An essential aspect of JILA's center philosophy is that one should be alert to opportunities to "export" interesting ideas and technologies to activities outside the central focus of the center, and to import these as well. JILA will explore a few of these opportunities, investing a small fraction of center resources in facilitating this trade in ideas and technology.

The major activities share a common focus, and therefore have substantial intellectual and scientific overlap, and, if, anything, still stronger technological overlap. Prior experience has shown that the extraordinarily challenging goals envisioned for the JILA PFC are best tackled with fluid collaborations that can draw on a range of capabilities, such as laser frequency combs, ultracold atoms, advanced VUV sources, quantum and ultrafast optics, the sensitive detection methods of chemical physics, and theoretical methods, both computational and analytic. This diversity of expertise cannot readily be synthesized in an individual investigator's group. In addition, the JILA PFC relies on and continuously upgrades a shared technical infrastructure including a world-class machine shop, as well as electronics and computational support, and engages in a collective program of education and outreach efforts.

The JILA program will have many different broader impacts. It will enhance the nation's technical infrastructure by developing many new laser-based tools and techniques, and by producing many graduates who are highly trained not only in AMO physics but also in technical communication and teaching skills. It will connect with the science community around the world and foster field-wide frontier research through organization and hosting of topical workshops, through a short-term and long-term JILA visitor program, as well as through the many undergraduate students, graduate students, and postdoctoral researchers who participate in the collaborative and interdisciplinary research at JILA. As discussed above, the proposed work connects to many different areas of physics, including applied areas such as materials physics, biophysics, and nanotechnology. Extending understanding and quantum control from few- to many-body systems will certainly impact many applications, such as photosynthesis, design of catalytic materials, and new techniques in renewable energy. The proposed program will also attract more students into science, particularly from under-represented groups, through a vigorous undergraduate research program and a predominantly minority-serving middle-school after-school enrichment program. It will contribute to general science interest and literacy through a variety of programs that include the very popular "Wizards" show for school children, the University of Colorado Saturday Physics public talks, and suitably trained graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who present science topics to Colorado middle-school and high-school students. It will also research, develop, and broadly disseminate better ways to teach AMO science to all students, better ways to teach AMO science to all students, particularly through on-line interactive simulation.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Physics (PHY)
Cooperative Agreement (Coop)
Application #
Program Officer
Jean Cottam Allen
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
University of Colorado at Boulder
United States
Zip Code