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Department of Chemistry

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Large EPSRC Grant Award on Ultracold Molecules.

(24 January 2011)

Jeremy Hutson, Eckart Wrede and David Carty were awarded a multi-million pound 5-year EPSRC Programme Grant on "Microkelvin Molecules in a Quantum Array", in collaboration with Simon Cornish in the Physics Department at Durham and Ed Hinds and Mike Tarbutt at Imperial College London. The Durham share of this grant is almost 4 million pounds.

All matter is governed by quantum mechanics, but there are many important properties that are impossible to model on conventional computers. When there are many particles present and every particle interacts appreciably with every other, the quantum behaviour of the bulk cannot easily be understood from that of the constituents. From such strongly interacting quantum systems emerge extraordinary and fascinating phenomena such as high-temperature superconductivity and exotic forms of magnetism. These phenomena have many potential applications, but many of them are poorly understood.

In an early work on quantum computation, Feynman suggested that the only way to model these strongly interacting quantum systems would be to construct a quantum simulator - a system of interacting quantum particles whose interactions can be controlled and tuned.

The goal of the Programme Grant is to make this futuristic idea into a reality using ultracold molecules, at temperatures within a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. New methods will be developed to cool large samples of molecules to these very low temperatures, and to form molecules from ultracold atoms. The molecules will then be loaded into optical lattices, which are regular arrays of molecules that sit in the microscopic potential wells (less than a micron across) formed at the antinodes in a laser standing wave. At these very low temperatures, all the motions of the molecules (including their translational motion) will be governed by the laws of quantum mechanics and will be very precisely controllable.

The "quantum array" of  molecules will be used as a quantum simulator - an ideal, tuneable and highly versatile tool for modelling strongly-interacting quantum systems and understanding the remarkable quantum phenomena they exhibit.