The mission of Atomic Physics Division is to determine atomic properties and investigate fundamental quantum interactions in order to provide data and measurement support for national needs. The mission involves the development and application of atomic physics research methods, including those involving the interaction between atoms and electromagnetic fields, to achieve fundamental advances in measurement science—some at the quantum limit—relevant to industry and the technical community, and to produce and critically compile physical reference data.
The scope of the Atomic Physics Division includes the following three strategic elements.
The Laser Cooling and Trapping strategic element focuses on the physics and applications of laser cooling and the electromagnetic trapping of neutral particles, the manipulation of Bose-Einstein condensates, and the use of optical dipole forces as a new tool for analyzing microscopic objects in biochemistry. It includes both fundamental studies, such as the investigation of superfluidity, and applied studies, such as quantum information processing and manipulation techniques for biomolecular systems. A strong theoretical-experimental collaboration is aimed at interpreting experimental results and providing guidance for new experiments.
The Atomic Spectroscopy strategic element has as its objective to critically compile fundamental constants and spectroscopic data for atoms from the far infrared to the x-ray spectral region. Such reference data are disseminated through the NIST Physics Laboratory Web site. When reliable data do not exist for high-priority needs, specific measurements or calculations are undertaken to produce them.
The Quantum Processes and Metrology strategic element focuses on developing and exploiting precision metrology at the interface between atomic and nanoscale systems. Systems under study include quantum dots and wires, the quantum optics of nanosystems, ultracold atomic quantum gases, metallic nanoparticles, and those systems with nanoscale features induced on surfaces by highly charged ions.
The Joint Quantum Institute is a major new project for the division since the
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Atomic Physics Division DESCRIPTION OF THE DIVISION Mission The mission of Atomic Physics Division is to determine atomic properties and investigate fundamental quantum interactions in order to provide data and measurement support for national needs. The mission involves the development and application of atomic physics research methods, including those involving the interaction between atoms and electromagnetic fields, to achieve fundamental advances in measurement science—some at the quantum limit—relevant to industry and the technical community, and to produce and critically compile physical reference data. Scope The scope of the Atomic Physics Division includes the following three strategic elements. 1. The Laser Cooling and Trapping strategic element focuses on the physics and applications of laser cooling and the electromagnetic trapping of neutral particles, the manipulation of Bose-Einstein condensates, and the use of optical dipole forces as a new tool for analyzing microscopic objects in biochemistry. It includes both fundamental studies, such as the investigation of superfluidity, and applied studies, such as quantum information processing and manipulation techniques for biomolecular systems. A strong theoretical-experimental collaboration is aimed at interpreting experimental results and providing guidance for new experiments. 2. The Atomic Spectroscopy strategic element has as its objective to critically compile fundamental constants and spectroscopic data for atoms from the far infrared to the x-ray spectral region. Such reference data are disseminated through the NIST Physics Laboratory Web site. When reliable data do not exist for high-priority needs, specific measurements or calculations are undertaken to produce them. 3. The Quantum Processes and Metrology strategic element focuses on developing and exploiting precision metrology at the interface between atomic and nanoscale systems. Systems under study include quantum dots and wires, the quantum optics of nanosystems, ultracold atomic quantum gases, metallic nanoparticles, and those systems with nanoscale features induced on surfaces by highly charged ions. Projects Laser Cooling and Trapping The Joint Quantum Institute is a major new project for the division since the 11
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NRC’s previous review.6 This institute was formally established with the University of Maryland and the National Security Agency (NSA) in the fall of 2006, modeled in part along the lines of JILA. The purpose of this partnership is to create an institute of the caliber that will attract top scientists and students into the field of coherent quantum phenomena. This cross-disciplinary effort combines atomic/molecular/optical physics, condensed-matter physics, and quantum information in a single institute to capitalize on the different strengths of these fields through interdisciplinary collaboration. In 2007, the Joint Quantum Institute benefited from about $2 million of funding under the America COMPETES Act of 2007, helping to enhance the position of the United States in this emerging technology. New laboratories are being designed for NIST researchers, and several collaborative projects have been initiated. Two staff members taught a graduate course in quantum information at the University of Maryland, 25 Fellows have been appointed, and a new staff member was hired. An additional benefit of the institute will be the opportunity for NIST to share its expertise by the training of students through the graduate program at the University of Maryland, which will leverage the capabilities of the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group in the exploration of this new frontier. Quantum information has the potential to spur major innovations. Failure to develop leadership in this area could threaten U.S. competitiveness economically and scientifically and could undermine national security. This effort should receive continued support. Atomic Spectroscopy A second major project in the Atomic Physics Division, the Atomic Data Center, is the only center of its kind. Its mission is to critically compile fundamental constants and spectroscopic data for atoms from the far infrared to the x-ray spectral region. As a unique center, it sets the standard worldwide for these data. These results are disseminated on the NIST Physics Laboratory Web site to produce high-quality data for immediate scientific or technological needs. When such data do not exist for high- priority needs such as fusion energy, space astronomy, or microlithography, specific measurements or calculations are undertaken at the center to produce them. Improved measurements have also been initiated in support of fundamental constants. This database experiences more than 50,000 requests for data each month. An online collisional-radiative modeling system of hot plasmas was added in conjunction with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Quantum Processes and Metrology A third major project in the division involves a leading-edge optical lithography effort. This work in the precision measurement of materials is unique and is much appreciated by a community of users such as Intel Corporation and ASML, a provider of lithography systems for the semiconductor industry. The division’s work also includes the most accurate diffraction measurement capability, work to make an absolute standard 6 National Research Council, 2005, An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Measurement and Standards Laboratories, Fiscal Years 2004-2005, Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press. 12
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of current, and the development of new magnetic material for read heads in magnetic data storage devices. The theoretical work in this group is strong, supporting experiments throughout the laboratory, including theoretical support for optical lattices, the atomic clock work at NIST Boulder and JILA, and the preeminent effort in cold collision Feshbach resonances important at present in Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC) research. Staffing The Atomic Physics Division has seen a healthy turnover in staff as two scientists in atomic spectroscopy have retired and three new scientists have been hired. Fifty percent of the scientists were new to the division in the past decade. The Laser Cooling and Trapping Group completed a successful bid to hire a new experimentalist. The Quantum Processes and Metrology Group has completed two hires since the previous assessment, one a transfer within NIST and one hired from a university. These impressive hires, which show a small amount of growth for the division, have been successful because of both the funding related to the America COMPETES Act and the first-rate reputation of this division in the scientific community. The Atomic Spectroscopy Group, which has had two retirements in the past 3 years, currently functions by leveraging its effort with emeritus staff, contractors, and visitors. This appears to be a highly effective means to maintain productivity and to retain expertise, although it jeopardizes continuity if not effectively implemented. Major Equipment, Facilities, Ancillary Support, and Resources The status of equipment, facilities, and ancillary support and resources in the division appears to be good. Much of the current equipment of the division is state of the art. The facilities are between good and excellent and are well maintained. The Advanced Measurements Laboratory building provides state-of-the-art facilities for the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group and for parts of the Quantum Processes and Metrology Group. This laboratory is maintained and used at a high level with the addition of significant outside funding—a recognition of the importance of the research of this group to outside funding agencies. The Joint Quantum Institute has plans for a new building that will provide new laboratory space for this group. ASSESSMENT OF THE DIVISION As stated above, the mission of the Atomic Physics Division is to determine atomic properties and investigate fundamental quantum interactions in order to provide data and measurement support for national needs. The major projects of the division reflect this mission, striking a healthy balance between applied studies targeting high- priority needs of industry, the fusion energy community, and the space astronomy program, and more fundamental studies that may lead to new technologies that could affect U.S. leadership economically and scientifically; they could also affect national security issues. The major accomplishments since the previous assessment, in 2005, include both 13
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institutional progress and technological accomplishments. Examples of institutional progress include the following: • The NIST Quantum Information Program, started in 2000, is a cross- laboratory effort in quantum information science. This program is a coordinated effort aimed at producing a prototype quantum logic processor. Initiative funds from the FY 2007 budget significantly enhanced the program that currently supports 10 divisions in three NIST laboratories: the Physics Laboratory, the Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory, and the Information Technology Laboratory. • A new entity in the Quantum Information Program, the Joint Quantum Institute, was formally established with a cooperative agreement and Memorandum of Understanding in September 2006. As discussed above, this institute creates a partnership between NIST, the University of Maryland, and NSA to study coherent quantum phenomena (quantum information science), an area that has the potential to become a revolutionary technology that will affect the United States economically and in national security issues. Supported by America COMPETES Act funding, the goal of this institute is to keep the United States in the forefront of quantum information science. • The NIST Measurement Services Advisory Group was recently created with a goal of bolstering measurement services within NIST. The MSAG selected the division’s Atomic Spectroscopy Group to receive funds to enhance the Atomic Data Center, including its ability to collect and disseminate atomic data. Technological accomplishments in the division since the previous NRC assessment of the Physics Laboratory include the following: • A theoretical and experimental study was done to examine ionized states of heavy atoms, which have several critical applications, including the obtaining of diagnostics of the conditions in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a joint international research and development project that aims to demonstrate the scientific and technical feasibility of fusion power. • New magnetic materials for ultrasmall read heads in magnetic data storage devices were developed. A patent is pending for this valuable contribution to the data storage industry. • A neutral atom swap gate for quantum computation was demonstrated using a novel, two-period lattice. This work, published in Nature,7 represents a significant step forward for neutral atom quantum computing. 7 Marco Anderlini, Patricia J. Lee, Benjamin L. Brown, Jennifer Sebby-Strabley, William D. Phillips, and J.V. Porto, 2007, “Controlled Exchange Interaction Between Pairs of Neutral Atoms in an Optical Lattice,” Nature 448 (July 26): pp. 452-456. 14
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Technical Merit Relative to State of the Art Laser Cooling and Trapping The area of atom cooling and trapping was pioneered at NIST in the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group, leading to a Nobel Prize in 1997. This group also pioneered confining cold atoms in optical lattices formed by the interaction of the atom with a standing wave of light. The trapped atoms are being explored as a possible route to quantum computation and for the quantum simulation of problems of interest in condensed matter. This work is among the best in its field. Atomic Spectroscopy The evaluation of fundamental constants, accomplished with considerable international collaboration and consultation, considers all experiments that bear on these constants and is the accepted source for the best values of the fundamental constants. Likewise, the atomic data evaluated and compiled by the Atomic Spectroscopy Data Center are the primary source of atomic data. Quantum Processes and Metrology Optical lithography is reducing the limit on feature size for large-scale integrated circuits to permit even greater densities. The work being carried out by the Quantum Processes and Metrology Group in materials and precision measurements is unique and is much appreciated by the community of users such as Intel Corporation and ASML. Fundamental research involving materials for optics is being undertaken, in particular to find a composite material with as small a birefringence as possible. The most accurate diffraction measurement capability exists in this group; this capability is essential for developing optics at the level needed. In collaboration with the NIST Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory, a new approach is being taken to develop an absolute standard of electrical current. It is based on using a single electron transistor to count the number of electrons per second. The development of such new standards is a highly relevant project for NIST. Adequacy of Infrastructure Laser Cooling and Trapping The recently completed new laboratory facilities supporting the work of the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group provide a research environment that is far superior to that of the previous laboratory facilities. One benefit is that complex laser systems and associated optical components that previously needed considerable adjustment in the morning and a readjusting at midday now operate for weeklong timescales without readjustment. This change frees up to several hours per day for productive work and allows more complicated experimental setups to be constructed, allowing more advanced research programs. Also, some of the noisy pumps and machinery associated with the 15
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experiments are now in the service corridor behind the laboratories, which reduces the vibration and stress on experiments as well as on the scientists working on them. The permanent personnel in the Laser Cooling and Trapping Group are among the best in their field. This group’s attractiveness is attested to by the six NRC and other fellows who elected to join the group. Atomic Spectroscopy and Quantum Processes and Metrology The facilities for the Atomic Spectroscopy Group and the Quantum Processes and Metrology Group are between adequate and state of the art. Achievement of Objectives and Impact Laser Cooling and Trapping In the area of laser cooling and trapping, the intense correlated photon source is likely to be particularly important in the short run because of its high rate of production for correlated pairs of photons. Atomic Spectroscopy The Atomic Spectroscopy Group maintains the premier database of atomic data: the group’s fundamental constants work and its atomic data are the world standard. Quantum Processes and Metrology The Quantum Processes and Metrology Group is successful in understanding interactions between light and solids and, for example, in using this knowledge to design new materials and techniques for new lithographic processes that are reducing the feature sizes of integrated circuits to ever-smaller dimensions in order to allow faster and more capable semiconductor devices. Light-atom interactions are also used to characterize materials precisely and for the precision measurement of micro-movements of nanostructures. Obtained precision is currently approaching the size of an atom. CONCLUSIONS The technical merit of all three groups in the Atomic Physics Division continues at a very high level compared with the current state of the art. The Laser Cooling and Trapping Group is a leader in the coherent control of atoms, which may quite possibly constitute a technological revolution. The Quantum Processes and Metrology Group is performing state-of-the-art work in optical lithography including the precision measurements of materials. The Atomic Spectroscopy Group maintains a unique source of atomic data and fundamental constants, with a critical compilation of new data and the determination of specific measurements for high-priority needs in the industry, in the fusion energy community, and in the astrophysical community. 16
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The facilities, equipment, and human resources of all three groups are good to excellent. The Advanced Measurements Laboratory building provides excellent laboratory space, and much of the equipment is state of the art. The Atomic Spectroscopy Group is currently highly leveraged in personnel through the use of retired employees, contractors, and visitors; their contribution is currently effective, but must be allocated with care and cannot be counted on for the future. All the groups are achieving their stated objectives. In 2007 NIST received about $6 million for quantum information science under America COMPETES Act funding. One-third (about $2 million) was combined with funding from the University of Maryland and the National Security Agency to support the new Joint Quantum Institute. Quantum information and quantum computers are intrinsically cross-disciplinary, involving physics, mathematics, materials science, and computer science and engineering. Canada and Europe have quantum information centers, and the NIST center is needed to keep up U.S. competitiveness in this potentially revolutionary area of science and technology. Overall the funds allocated to the Physics Laboratory for atomic physics are a wise investment of U.S. research dollars in an area of technology that is witnessing rapid advances and competition from abroad. The panel strongly encourages the continuation of funding for the new Joint Quantum Institute. The Atomic Physics Division appears to be in excellent condition in all areas: technical merit; adequacy of facilities, equipment, and human resources; and the progress toward stated objectives. The division has seen the initiation of new projects, most notably the Joint Quantum Institute, and the steady maintenance of important existing projects such as the Atomic Data Center, which continues to serve a large customer base, and the optical lithography effort, which is leading the way on several technological fronts. Over the past 3 years this division has seen small but important growth in its staff, successfully completing three new hires. It has used funding from the America COMPETES Act to support the position of the United States in the emerging field of quantum computing with the establishment of an interdisciplinary institute in coherent quantum control. This area could become an innovator of technology important to national security. Except for the areas mentioned in the recommendations below, morale and productivity in the division are high. This division should aggressively protect the work environment of the laboratory in order to enhance the productivity of the scientists and to maintain and foster the culture that has built outstanding scientists, many of whom are Fellows in the American Physical Society and recipients of many prestigious outside awards, including a Nobel Prize (1997). The division’s reorganization of the groups in response to changing technical and scientific opportunities and efforts and its involvement in the cross-laboratory Quantum Information Program and in the formation of the Joint Quantum Institute have kept both productivity and morale high. The following recommendations are made in the interest of improving the working environment of the division: • The security-related background checks of new employees and visitors to the Physics Laboratory should be expedited as much as possible. The scientists at NIST work on complex experiments that often involve measurements being 17
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made after regular business hours when vibrations and temperature fluctuations in the building are minimized. Therefore, it is a serious impediment to both progress and a collaborative spirit that new employees, and particularly foreign visitors and employees, often face 5 to 14 months for background checks by an agency outside of NIST before being allowed to run their experiments after hours (when the best data are usually taken). Addressing this issue would be in line with the American Competitiveness Initiative goal of increasing the ability of the United States to compete and retain the most highly skilled workers from around the world. • The security rules for computers mandated through the Office of Management and Budget should be examined to address the specific needs of the laboratory. 18