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Controlling the Quantum World: The Science of Atoms, Molecules, and Photons
reveal the workings of nature on a fundamental level. In addition, society continues to have many urgent challenges that AMO research seeks to address. The unifying thread between the pure and applied work is quantum mechanics: AMO research develops tools and seeks knowledge on the quantum level, enabling progress in many other fields of science, engineering, and medicine.
The overarching emerging theme in AMO science is control of the quantum world. The six broad grand challenges outlined in this report describe key scientific opportunities in the coming decade. They are precision measurements; ultracold matter; ultra-high-intensity and short-wavelength lasers; ultrafast control; nanophotonics; and quantum information science. These challenges will drive 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 (see Figure 1–1).
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF PHYSICAL LAW?
What are the undiscovered laws of physics that lie beyond our current understanding of the physical world? What is the nature of space, time, matter, and energy? AMO science provides exquisitely sensitive tools to probe these questions. For example, a force that alters the fundamental forward-backward symmetry of time has been studied extensively by high energy physicists, but another such force beyond the current Standard Model of the universe is now widely expected to exist. This tiny but revolutionary effect could show up first in the next decade in AMO experiments that look for deviations in the nearly perfect spatial symmetry found in atoms. A second question asks whether the laws of physics are constant over time or across the universe. A new generation of ultraprecise clocks will enable laboratory searches for time variations of the fundamental constants of nature. Answers will also come from AMO research that is helping to interpret astrophysical observations of the most exotic and most distant realms in the universe. The advanced technologies developed for such fundamental physics experiments have many other uses. They will improve the accuracy of direct gravity-wave detection and of next-generation global positioning satellites and will produce new medical diagnostics. These advances are described briefly in the next paragraphs and explored more fully in Chapter 2.
Since the atomic concept was finally accepted at the beginning of the 20th century, atoms have proven central to the discovery and understanding of the laws of physics. Today remarkably sensitive techniques probe the properties of atoms, molecules, and light over enormous ranges: from submicroscopic to cosmic distances, in both familiar environments and the most exotic realms in the universe. The unprecedented sensitivity with which these fundamental properties can be