Atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) science illustrates powerfully the ties of fundamental physics to society. Its very name comes from three of the twentieth century's greatest advances: the establishment of the atom as the building block of matter; the development of quantum mechanics, which made it possible to understand the inner workings of atoms and molecules; and the invention of the laser. Advances made possible by the scientists in this field touch almost every sphere of societal importance in the past century. Navigation by the stars gave way to navigation by clocks, which in turn has given way to today's navigation by atomic clocks. Laser surgery has replaced the knife for the most delicate operations. Homeland security relies on a multitude of screening technologies based on AMO research to detect toxins in the air and hidden weapons in luggage or on persons, to name a few. New drugs are now designed with the aid of x-ray scattering to determine their structure at the molecular level using AMO-based precision measurement techniques. And the global economy depends critically on high-speed telecommunication by laser light sent over thin optical fibers encircling the globe. AMO scientists are proud of their central role in science and society in the twentieth century, and they have been rewarded with numerous Nobel prizes over the past decade, including the 2005 prize in physics. But in this report we look to the future.
The National Research Council of the National Academies has undertaken a study of opportunities in atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) science and technology over roughly the next decade. The committee carrying out the AMO 2010 study, has been asked to assess the state of AMO science, emphasizing recent accomplishments and identifying new and compelling scientific questions. The six grand challenges, summarized below, will each form a chapter of the committee's final report:
- What is the nature of physical law?
- What happens at the lowest temperatures in the universe?
- What happens when we turn up the power?
- Can we control the inner workings of a molecule?
- How will we control and exploit the nanoworld?
- What lies beyond Moore's law?
This interim report provides a preview of the final document. It summarizes the committee's opinion on the key opportunities in forefront AMO science and in closely related critical technologies and discusses some of the broad-scale conclusions of the final report. It also identifies how AMO science supports national R&D priorities.