Department News

May 23, 2019 - Schwettmann wins NSF Career Award

OU Physics Professor Arne Schwettmann is the recipient of a National Science Foundation CAREER (Faculty Early Career Development Program) Award for research on ultra cold atoms.

Collisions between atoms in gases happen all around us, for example in the air that we breathe every day. At room temperature, the collisions are random and very difficult to control. By cooling a gas to ultracold temperatures near absolute zero (below minus 273 degrees Celsius) and trapping it in the center of a vacuum chamber, collisions can be controlled and used to develop new technologies such as quantum-limited sensors for impurities. An ultracold gas behaves like a single quantum mechanical object, a matter wave. Collisions still take place in the matter wave, but they now happen in a predictable fashion. In a sodium matter wave, the collisions can be controlled precisely via microwave radiation. The colliding atoms behave like small magnets with magnetic north and south poles determined by the direction of their atomic spin. During collisions, atoms experience each other's magnetic fields and change their spin directions. As they change directions, the atomic spins become correlated with each other at the quantum level, a phenomenon known as quantum entanglement. Quantum entanglement is useful when atoms are used as sensors. All entangled atoms react to external influences in unison, increasing the sensitivity of a sensor. This research project will use controlled collisions in sodium matter waves to study quantum-enhanced sensing and other quantum technologies. This project will study the role of impurities and will also explore differences and similarities compared to experiments with entangled beams of light. The research will improve our experimental understanding of quantum technologies based on matter waves under realistic conditions, in the presence of loss and impurities. This has practical applications for development of robust quantum-enhanced sensors, for development of quantum-enhanced probes for ultracold gases, and for improving our understanding of how we can control spin in matter waves at the quantum level.

The initial award is $311,908. This is a continuing grant expected to total $500,000 over five years. For more information, go to

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