Systems of particles with strong interactions and correlations lie at the heart of many areas of the physical sciences, from atomic, molecular, optical, and condensed-matter physics to quantum chemistry. In condensed matter, strong interactions determine the formation of topological phases giving materials unexpected physical properties that could revolutionize technology through robustness to noise and disorder. In quantum chemistry, determining the electronic structure of molecules is a problem of strongly correlated matter that establishes the static, dynamic and interaction properties of molecules as well as being key in tackling questions ranging from basic biology to translational medicine. This project will tackle these problems through the analog and digital simulation of their quintessential strongly-interacting properties on an apparatus with ultracold neutral atoms in optical tweezers. In the analog simulations, all the physics of the strongly correlated systems will be simultaneously emulated or mimicked, while the digital version will use a stroboscopic approach. The breadth and depth of this project, both in experimental tools and novel theoretical developments, will provide a rich educational environment for students at all levels and from all backgrounds, and inspire them to purse creative scientific careers in industry and academia. This environment will reach far beyond the research through a program for middle and high school students, the Young Physicist Program, by bringing the students to the University of California - San Diego labs and facilities to learn about fundamental topics in the quantifiable world via simplified college-level laboratories and interactive demonstrations.
This project will use ultracold fermionic strontium atoms in polychromatic optical tweezers and beams to realize an analog simulator of fractional Chern insulators and to demonstrate the building blocks of a digital simulator of many-body fermionic open systems. The simulation of the topological insulating state will follow an optical flux approach, which engineers the lattice in reciprocal space through polychromatic beams driving a manifold of Raman transitions, and will benefit from ultracold strontium's low temperatures and reduced heating by spontaneous emission. The digital simulator, on the other hand, uses a stroboscopic approximation of the many-body Hamiltonian, or Liouvillian for open systems, through a set of elementary operations, much like a quantum computer, but with fermions instead of qubits, and arbitrary hopping and interactions between fermionic modes, instead of qubit gates. Polychromatic and mobile tweezers will exquisitely trap and precisely transport strontium atoms, both tasks achieved selectively for atoms in their ground or long-lived excited states. The prospects of exquisitely controlling, manipulating and interacting single fermions would exceed by far that achieved over the last two decades of doing the same with qubits.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.