Introduction

AMO science—the study of atoms, molecules, and light, and the discovery of related applications and techniques—has yielded a bumper crop of innovations that have had a significant impact in many spheres:

  • the growth, vitality, and transformation of our economy

  • our ability to provide ever-improving health care

  • our understanding and control of the environment

  • our national security and homeland defense capabilities

AMO science does more than prime the pump from which our society’s material wealth flows. In addition to providing the basis for new technology, it also is a source of the intellectual capital on which science and technology depend for growth and development.

AMO activities in our universities have been key to training many of our best scientists, engineers, and technical professionals, who will continue to impact all parts of our technology-based society. The benefits of having created this intellectual and human resource capital that we value so much flow from investments made many years ago.

AMO science continues to be a frontier science that is attracting the best minds worldwide, and stunning discoveries are being reported at an ever-increasing pace. If the past pace of innovations based on discoveries and inventions made by AMO is any guide, the nation will continue to benefit handsomely through the many revolutionary applications resulting from present investments.

Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, has observed, “New technologies that evolved from the cumulative innovations of the past half-century have now begun to bring about dramatic changes in the way goods and services are produced . . . .” At roughly $100 million per year, total federal investment in AMO research is incredibly profitable. The increasingly interconnected nature of the scientific enterprise makes an investment in a field such as AMO, with its strong enabling component, all the more valuable. Discoveries and applications from AMO science can leverage investments in other areas of physics and science as well as engineering and medicine. This is a two-way street, however, for



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Atoms, Molecules, and Light: AMO Science Enabling the Future Introduction AMO science—the study of atoms, molecules, and light, and the discovery of related applications and techniques—has yielded a bumper crop of innovations that have had a significant impact in many spheres: the growth, vitality, and transformation of our economy our ability to provide ever-improving health care our understanding and control of the environment our national security and homeland defense capabilities AMO science does more than prime the pump from which our society’s material wealth flows. In addition to providing the basis for new technology, it also is a source of the intellectual capital on which science and technology depend for growth and development. AMO activities in our universities have been key to training many of our best scientists, engineers, and technical professionals, who will continue to impact all parts of our technology-based society. The benefits of having created this intellectual and human resource capital that we value so much flow from investments made many years ago. AMO science continues to be a frontier science that is attracting the best minds worldwide, and stunning discoveries are being reported at an ever-increasing pace. If the past pace of innovations based on discoveries and inventions made by AMO is any guide, the nation will continue to benefit handsomely through the many revolutionary applications resulting from present investments. Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, has observed, “New technologies that evolved from the cumulative innovations of the past half-century have now begun to bring about dramatic changes in the way goods and services are produced . . . .” At roughly $100 million per year, total federal investment in AMO research is incredibly profitable. The increasingly interconnected nature of the scientific enterprise makes an investment in a field such as AMO, with its strong enabling component, all the more valuable. Discoveries and applications from AMO science can leverage investments in other areas of physics and science as well as engineering and medicine. This is a two-way street, however, for

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Atoms, Molecules, and Light: AMO Science Enabling the Future AMO science benefits from discovery and application in other fields as well. The investments in scientific research have led to applications that reach far beyond science per se into the diverse worlds of optical communication, manufacturing, health care, energy, and national security. Consider the continued impact of the maser and the laser, invented over 40 years ago. The laser, which came from AMO science, was quickly embraced by the semiconductor community and has led to technologies and consumer applications that would not otherwise exist. These include the optical information storage industry, with its CDs and DVDs; the modern communication industries, with their fiber-optics-based transmission systems; and the modern printing industries, with laser printers at both the consumer and production levels. Lasers directly enable a set of industries that contributes over $300 billion to the worldwide economy. The semiconductor processing industry, whose future has always been based on packing an increasing number of transistors and other components onto smaller and smaller chips, finds that excimer lasers based on inventions in atomic and molecular science have become the key drivers for future progress. Every single deep-ultraviolet lithography stepper (a machine that facilitates reproducing a semiconductor chip from a master) now requires an excimer laser for producing integrated circuits. New types of excimer lasers at shorter wavelengths will continue to meet the ever-more-exacting demands of the semiconductor industry, which has worldwide sales exceeding $200 billion per year. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans are diagnosed with cancer or suffer from a debilitating condition. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is one in a long list of medical technologies derived from AMO research that are helping many of these individuals to realize better health and a longer life. MRI can be traced back to research done in the 1930s by Stern and Rabi. Standing on the shoulders of numerous scientists before them, these early AMO pioneers developed atomic and molecular beams to measure the magnetic properties of the proton, a particle that resides in the nucleus of every atom and molecule in our bodies. It is this magnetic property of the nucleus that made possible magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the 1940s and the magnetic imaging of the human body in the 1970s. Tissues containing fat and water have typically been the targets for MRI scans because they give large magnetic resonance signals. The most recent development in MRI technology, the incorporation of polarized rare gases, now allows imaging of organs that do not contain much water, such as the lung. It was made possible by AMO research on optical pumping, which also began in the 1940s. It is important to recognize that MRI, which has grown into a billion-dollar industry that performs several million MRI scans annually, would not have been possible without the fundamental research that is now some 70 years old. Another example of the influence of AMO science is the impact that our understanding of the physics of atomic and molecular collisions has had on improvements in the efficiency of gas discharge

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Atoms, Molecules, and Light: AMO Science Enabling the Future lamps. About 20 percent of U.S. electricity consumption is accounted for by domestic and industrial lighting. It is clear, therefore, that the use of more efficient light sources could mean significant savings for the U.S. economy. Among the new sources are high-efficiency metal halide lamps, sunlight-spectrum sulfur-dimer lamps, and white light emitting diode (LED) sources. These new sources, along with the now fairly common standard and compact fluorescent lamps, can be 3 to 10 times more efficient than standard household incandescent bulbs. Even if only some inefficient light sources are replaced with these new sources developed out of AMO research, a modest 1 percent gain in overall lighting efficiency would lead to a $4 billion annual saving in the nation’s energy bill. While technologies enabled by AMO science continue to make communications faster and cheaper, concerns have arisen about the confidentiality and authenticity of messages. Ensuring greater security for electronic transmissions between national security, law enforcement, and financial institutions is a growing priority as the United States is faced with one threat after another. Today’s cryptographic codes, which are based on factoring very large numbers, can provide a barrier against most unauthorized intrusions, given that traditional computers cannot break these codes on any reasonable time scale. Nevertheless, breaches do occur and can go unnoticed until financial losses or other consequences are detected. Cryptography based on quantum physics, as opposed to classical physics (factoring), would not only provide a more robust way of assuring confidentiality and authenticity but would also provide a way of informing the sender and/or the receiver that an intrusion is in progress. Researchers in AMO science have given proof of principle for key processes on which quantum cryptography would be based. Beyond developing new systems for securing information, AMO science also continues to make significant contributions to national security and homeland defense. The products of AMO science are improving our defenses against traditional threats as well as enabling reliable countermeasures against threats from biological and chemical agents. Not all of the AMO advances occurring today can or should be seen as having direct and identifiable coupling to the current economic, health, defense, or environmental needs of the nation. For example, the invention of the maser by Gordon, Zeiger, and Townes in 1954 was a fundamental breakthrough in molecular science (see image at the left on page viii). It showed for the first time the importance of a phenomenon known as “population inversion” and some years later led to the invention of lasers. Through a progression of subsequent discoveries, inventions, and innovations spanning some 20 years, the consequences of that 1954 breakthrough have affected numerous industries. For instance, automobile manufacturers now use laser-based auto body welding technologies, reducing costs and improving quality (see image at the right on page viii). The characteristic time scale for going from discovery to deployment of basic advances resulting from science in general and AMO science in particular can be as short as a few years or as long as decades. This lag can be compared to the time it often takes to get approval for a new drug—in pharmaceutical research, such long lag times are accepted, and long-term investment strategies are the norm. Therefore, a patient investment strategy tolerant of high risk is key to ensuring that the nation benefits from AMO and other branches of science.

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Atoms, Molecules, and Light: AMO Science Enabling the Future The purpose of this report is twofold: (1) to delineate the connection between AMO discoveries and technological applications throughout society and (2) to highlight recent advances that will play an important role in shaping the landscape of scientific discovery and technological invention. To underscore the breadth and importance of AMO-based applications, the committee presents a few snapshots of technology in four areas: the economy, the health sector, the environment, and national security. These are followed by an abbreviated collection of frontier investigations associated with the ability of AMO science to access and probe the ultimate limits of temperature, particle speed, and resolution. These short chapters show how AMO science is impacting life as we live it today and how contemporary investigations are revealing new understanding of nature, which—when harnessed—will revolutionize life as we live it tomorrow. AMO science plays a critical role in the health and growth of the economy of the United States. The Internet and optical communication, the electronic industry and the Global Positioning System (GPS) are all empowered by technologies derived from AMO research. The eagerly anticipated advances that will come from the national push toward the nanoscale will certainly rely on corresponding advances in atomic, molecular, and optical science. The chapter “AMO Science Impacting the Economy” illustrates applications based on AMO research in manufacturing and processing, information technology, communications, and entertainment. Lasers are playing a crucial role in many areas of surgery. From correcting ocular conditions to imaging damaged organs to removing tattoos, lasers are having a profound effect on health care. Breathable magnets, LASIK, and the medpen are but a few of the examples highlighted in “AMO Science Improving Health” that have enabled early detection and the development of corrective measures not heretofore possible. The atmosphere that surrounds Earth protects us from the harshness of space while providing an environment that sustains life. The constituents of the atmosphere— atoms, molecules, and electrons—exist in a dynamic and delicate balance that is strongly affected by pollution and sunlight. The interplay between pollution and global change—global warming and the hole in the stratospheric ozone layer—is treated in “AMO Science Protecting the Environment.” AMO research not only is providing technology to measure and model pollution and the harm it causes, but it also is playing a critical role in the development of remediation procedures. The genesis of many of the advances required to meet today’s national security needs can be found in civilian research programs, and indeed the converse is also true. “AMO Science Enhancing National Defense” describes a few advances in laser science over the past decade that have led to increased security, better defense, and improved military preparedness.

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Atoms, Molecules, and Light: AMO Science Enabling the Future The heart and soul of AMO science, discovery, is propelled by the exquisite control AMO scientists have over the properties of atoms, molecules, and light. In “AMO Science Expanding the Frontiers,” the committee describes research under extreme conditions—ultracold temperatures billions of times colder than space, ultraintense light strong enough to tear even space apart, and ultrashort light pulses fast enough to stop the motion of atoms within a molecule and allow the manipulation of one atom at a time. Whether colliding atoms together or holding them in place against natural forces, AMO discovery is providing a glimpse into unexplored aspects of the basic properties of nature that are certain to have a profound effect on how we live tomorrow.

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Atoms, Molecules, and Light: AMO Science Enabling the Future A laser cutting a sheet of metal produces a shower of sparks.