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March 2, 2015

March 5 Colloquium

Terry Takahashi, UO Institute of Neuroscience

Why We Don’t Hear Echoes: An Analysis of Acoustics and Neurophysiology


A common experience to anyone that has recorded a lecture, is the “boomy” or hollow quality of the recording that can make speech comprehension difficult. This differs markedly from our experience when we are actually sitting in the lecture hall. The boomy quality is due to the acoustical reflections from nearby surfaces that add at our eardrums to the sound waves arriving directly from the lecturer. Why don’t we hear these echoes? This question, first reported in 1846, was brought into the laboratory in 1948 and has been investigated since. The broadly accepted reason is that the sound arriving directly from the lecturer arrives a few milliseconds before the echo and triggers a suppressive mechanism in the auditory system that preempts the neural responses to the echo. This phenomenon has been called the “precedence effect”. Neuroscientists in the field have been investigating the nature of this suppression. I will present evidence from studies in the barn owl (Tyto alba), arguing that no such suppression is necessary. The precedence effect can instead be explained by the relative timing of envelope features and the simple, ubiquitous tendency of auditory neurons to respond to rising sound envelopes. This simple explanation is applicable to mammals, including humans, and can be generalized to the so-called “cocktail party effect” where a sound of interest can be occluded by independent sources of background noises.

February 25, 2015

February 26 Colloquium

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Brian Smith, University of Oxford

Generation, Manipulation and Measurement of Quantum Light: From Quantum Physics to Technology


The abilities to accurately create, manipulate and characterize quantum systems are essential for fundamental tests of quantum physics and realization of emergent quantum-enhanced technologies. Optical quantum systems offer unique capabilities in their low decoherence rates at room temperature and relative ease of control, making them ideally suited as proving grounds of quantum applications and foundations. However, a key challenge is associated with photon-photon interaction. Here I focus on our recent work to experimentally realize generation, control and measurement of non-classical states of light and their effective interaction. In particular, emphasis is placed on generation of photon-number states and coherent manipulation of quantum superpositions of photon-number states. Experimental probing of the implemented quantum operation is performed using custom detection that shows the effective nonlinear interaction can be achieved by multi-photon interference and projective measurement, but that the efficacy of this process is limited primarily by current detection techniques. Future directions of research associated with alternative measurements and resource states are discussed as potential extensions of this work.

February 20, 2015

Monday, February 23 Colloquium

Laura Sinclair, NIST

Moving the Frequency Comb out of the Metrology Lab


Frequency combs can support a dizzying array of precision measurement applications. However, until recently, high-performance combs have been limited to the well-controlled optical laboratory limiting them from reaching their full potential. I will present our development of a robust optically coherent all-pm-fiber frequency comb. In addition, I will discuss the use of combs for high-accuracy time-transfer and precision molecular spectroscopy and the implications of a robust comb for these applications.

February 17, 2015

February 17 Colloquium

Michael Raymer, UO, Philip H. Knight Professor of Liberal Arts and Science

The Bell Inequalities, the Experiments that Violate them, and the Failure of Local Realism


Einstein was wrong. That’s not a phrase we can say often, and in the case at hand he was wrong for all the right reasons – he stubbornly refused to accept what Niels Bohr claimed without any proof – that we can’t think of the properties and behaviors of quantum objects as reflecting any kind of local reality, suitably defined. In the past decades, however, experiments have been carried out showing that Einstein’s view – an essentially classical view – is untenable. It is the nature of quantum-state entanglement across large distances that precludes any kind of local, realistic theory, or local, realistic interpretation of quantum theory.

This lecture is presented without any quantum mechanics theory, and is suitable for undergraduate science majors, graduate students, and faculty who would like to see a light-hearted review and proof of the Bell Inequalities – those famous relations that brought philosophical musings into the experimental laboratory.

February 12, 2015

Monday, February 16 Colloquium- CANCELLED

Alexander Sushkov, Harvard University

Magnetic Resonance with Single Nuclear- Spin Sensitivity


Our method of nanoscale magnetic sensing and imaging makes use of nitrogen-vacancy (NV) color centers a few nanometers below the surface of a diamond crystal. Using individual NV centers, we perform NMR experiments on single protein molecules, labeled with carbon-13 and deuterium isotopes. In order to achieve single nuclear-spin sensitivity, we use isolated electronic-spin quantum bits (qubits), that are present on the diamond surface, as magnetic resonance “reporters”. Their quantum state is coherently manipulated and measured optically via a proximal NV center. This system is used for sensing, coherent coupling, and imaging of individual proton spins on the diamond surface with angstrom resolution, under ambient conditions at room temperature. Our approach may enable magnetic structural imaging of individual complex molecules, and realizes a new platform for probing novel materials, and manipulation of interacting spin systems.

February 9, 2015

Wednesday, February 11 Colloquium

Dr. William Phillips, Nobel Laureate, NIST

Spining Atoms with Light: A New Twist on Atom Optics


At the beginning of the 20th century, Einstein published three revolutionary ideas that changed forever how we view Nature. At the beginning of the 21st century, Einstein’s thinking is shaping one of the key scientific and technological wonders of contemporary life: atomic clocks, the best timekeepers ever made. Such super-accurate clocks are essential to industry, commerce, and science; they are the heart of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Today, atomic clocks are still being improved, using Einstein’s ideas to cool the atoms to incredibly low temperatures. Atomic gases reach temperatures less than a billionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, without solidifying. Such atoms enable scientists to make clocks that are accurate to better than a second in 80  million years, as well as to test some of Einstein’s strangest predictions.

February 2, 2015

February 5 Colloquium

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Carl Wieman, Nobel Laureate, Stanford University

Expertise in Physics and How it is Best Learned and Taught


I will discuss how research has illuminated what it means to “think like an expert” (i.e. have expertise), and how those abilities are developed. I will move from cognitive psychology studies of expertise in general to the specific elements of physics expertise and research on both measuring and teaching physics expertise at a variety of levels. This will elucidate the essential roles in the learning process of both content expertise of the teacher and specific cognitive activities of the students; providing guiding principles for effective ways to teach physics for all levels and contexts.

January 26, 2015

January 29 Colloquium

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Esther Wertz, University of Michigan

Exciton-Polaritons and Localized Surface Plasmons: Light-Matter Interactions at Different Scales


Light interacts with matter through processes such as absorption, scattering and emission so that by monitoring the changes in these interactions we can learn about the nature of the light’s environment, and, conversely, we can use these interactions to manipulate light in new ways. In this seminar, I will discuss two systems in which I have investigated light-matter interactions. First, I will talk about exciton-polaritons, quasi-particles arising from the strong coupling between quantum well excitons and cavity photons. The bosonic nature of these particles makes them good candidates to investigate the physics of Bose condensates in a solid state system, while their mixed light-matter nature allows us to optically manipulate them. In the second part of my talk, I will discuss localized surface plasmons resonances, and how we can unravel the coupling of light to a nano-antenna through single-molecule fluorescence imaging. This technique is a powerful tool to optically study structures beyond the diffraction limit by localizing isolated fluorophores and fitting the emission profile to the microscope point-spread function. By using the random motion of single dye molecules in solution to stochastically scan the surface, and by assessing emission intensity and density of emitters as a function of position, we show that the fluorophore emission location is strongly shifted upon coupling to the antenna, and that dyes can be coupled to nano-antennas at distances up to 90 nm away, i.e., much farther than the 10-20 nm plasmon enhancement length.

January 20, 2015

January 22 Colloquium

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Stephen Eckel, NIST

Studying Superfluidity in Cold-Atom Circuits


Superfluidity, or flow without resistance, is a macroscopic quantum effect that is present in a multitude of systems, including liquid helium, superconductors, and ultra-cold atomic gases. Here, I will present our work studying superfluid flow in a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) of sodium atoms. By manipulating optical potentials, we are able to form BECs into any shape, including rings and targets. Ring condensates are unique in that they can support quantized, persistent currents. We drive transitions between persistent current states using a rotating perturbation, or weak link. This ring and rotating potential form a circuit, which is analogous to an rf superconducting quantum interference device (SQIUD). Our circuit shows the essential features of an rf-SQUID, including tunable transitions between quantized persistent current states and hysteresis. Such features make an rf-SQUID a sensitive magnetometer; by analogy, our device could act as a rotation sensor. In addition to these experiments, we have also realized other geometries such as a dumbbell and a dc-SQUID, that allow us to study critical velocities and resistive flow in superfluids. These, and similar experiments with tunable geometries, shed new light onto the details of quantum transport and superfluidity, and may pave the way for new ‘atomtronic’ devices.

January 9, 2015

January 15 Colloquium

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Christian Schneider, UCLA

Quantum Control of Atoms, Ions, and Nuclei


Cold atoms and ions provide an interesting playground for a variety of measurements of fundamental physics. Using RF traps, experiments become possible with both large ensembles of ions, e.g. in cold chemistry, and few/single ions, such as in quantum computations/simulations or optical clocks, where ultimate quantum control is required. In the first part of the talk, recent results from our work in cold chemistry and cold molecular ions using a hybrid atom-ion experiment will be presented. We have developed an integrated time-of-flight mass spectrometer, which allows for the analysis of the complete ion ensemble with isotopic resolution. Using this new setup, we have significantly enhanced previous studies of cold reactions in our system. Potential routes towards ultra-cold reactions at the quantum level will be presented. Current work aims at demonstrating rotational cooling of the molecular ions and photo-associating molecular ions.

The second part of the talk reports on our results of the search for the low-energy isomeric transition in thorium-229. This transition in the vacuum-ultraviolet regime (around 7.8 eV) has a lifetime of tens of minutes to several hours and is better isolated from the environment than electronic transitions. This makes it a very promising candidate for future precision experiments, such as a nuclear clock or tests of variation of fundamental constants, which could outperform implementations based on electronic transitions. Our approach of a direct search for the nuclear transition uses thorium-doped crystals and, in a first experiment, synchrotron radiation (ALS, LBNL) to drive this transition. We were able to exclude a large region of possible transition frequencies and lifetimes. Currently, we continue our efforts with enhanced sensitivity using a pulsed vuv laser system.

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