techniques, as well as ways to measure their structure and chemistry, a priority effort at advanced x-ray light sources. The future security of our nation’s most powerful weapons may depend on our ability to reproduce the plasma conditions of a fusion bomb in the tiny focus of a powerful laser. And, controlling that plasma is key to harnessing its power for beneficial uses.
These last thoughts underscore how much AMO science is also about tools. Instruments made possible by AMO science and related technical developments are today everywhere in experimental science—from astronomy to zoology. In many instances they have made possible revolutionary experiments or observations and resulted in correspondingly revolutionary new understandings.
In approaching its charge, the committee identified, from among the many important and relevant issues, six broad grand challenges that succinctly describe key scientific opportunities available to AMO science. Surmounting these challenges will require important advances in both experiment and theory. Each of these science opportunities is linked closely to new tools that will also help in meeting critical national needs.
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 are the undiscovered laws of physics beyond our current model of the physical world? Recent advances in our understanding of the universe suggest the existence of an unexpected force that alters the fundamental symmetry of time. This tiny effect could be seen in the next decade in experiments that look for deviations in the nearly perfect symmetry found in atoms. Are the laws of physics constant over time or across the universe? A new generation of ultraprecise clocks will enable laboratory searches for time variation of fundamental constants. Answers will also come from AMO research that is helping to interpret astrophysical observations of the most exotic realms in the universe. The advanced technologies developed for fundamental physics experiments will also improve the accuracy of direct gravity-wave detection and of next-generation GPS satellites and will produce new medical diagnostics.
What happens at the lowest temperatures in the universe? The coldest objects in the universe are the Bose-Einstein condensates developed by AMO physicists in the last decade. These remarkable new states of matter, typically a billionth of a degree above absolute zero, are much colder than the furthest reaches of outer space. Scientists have discovered that they have strange and wonderful properties, and in the next decade we can expect a rich harvest of interesting new physics ideas and applications—from technological breakthroughs such as clocks and inertial sensors of unprecedented accuracy, to insights into the physics of ordinary matter as well as matter under extreme conditions. We are entering an age when we can routinely and exquisitely control nature on the quantum level. This quantum coherent control has already produced a matter-wave laser, which could advance gravitational and environmental sensing.