Ultracold Matter

The most important questions in many-body physics can now be addressed with powerful new tools developed to control and characterize gases of ultracold atoms and molecules. Using techniques of laser and evaporative cooling developed in the atomic physics community, temperatures as low as a billionth of a degree above absolute zero are accessible. In this regime, weak interactions between particles such as short-range contact interactions, superexchange, and long-range dipolar forces can become dominant, leading to realization of analogs of quantum magnetism and superconductivity, for example. Trapping potentials formed with interfering laser beams can create artificial lattices that mimic defect-free crystalline solids, but with the added ability to vary dimensionality, lattice depth, and interaction strength by simply changing the laser intensity or frequency or a magnetic field. Lattice defects or impurities can be controllably introduced to address outstanding questions on localization. The ability to isolate and perturb the system allow studies of non-equilibrium many-body physics that has previously been inaccessible, and artificial gauge fields and spin-orbit coupling can be created with properly tailored laser beams.

These advances have made studies of ultracold atomic physics one of the most exciting areas of research in all of science, with recent Nobel Prizes granted for laser cooling (1997), realization of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases (2001), ultra-precise tools of laser spectroscopy (2005), and the manipulation of individual quantum systems (2012). Rice is one of the leading institutions in the world in this area. Researchers here are pushing theoretical understanding of these novel systems and the experimental ability to realize them. The goals are to uncover the underlying mechanisms that give rise to the fascinating properties of quantum materials and to discover entirely new phenomena to inspire new generations of technological applications.