May 13, 2003

DAMOP 2003 meeting - Atomic, molecular and optical physics

The 34th meeting of the American Physical Society (APS) Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics (DAMOP) will be held in Boulder, Colorado, on the campus of the University of Colorado from May 20-24, 2003.

Atomic, molecular and optical physics covers a diverse range of subjects from the applied fields of medical imaging and geological exploration through to fundamental tests of Einstein's theories of relativity and the fundamental properties of atoms and molecules. Some highlights of this year's meeting are described below.

Dating krypton reveals the ancient life of water

If you thought that bottle of water in your fridge was old, think again. Using a new technique, researchers are able to date ancient water up to one million years old, providing vital information for understanding geological processes. The new test use a magneto-optical trap to analyze a mere 100 microliters of krypton-81 gas, which can be extracted from 3-5 tons of groundwater (3-5 cubic meters in volume). Researchers have collected krypton from the Nubian Aquifer underneath the Eastern Sahara Desert, one of the largest groundwater deposits in the world, and plan to present the dating results of their samples at DAMOP 2003.


Better magnetic brain scans

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is the best technique we have for precisely mapping the brain. Researchers have now developed a more accurate device for measuring the tiny magnetic fields in the brain. They will discuss how the device can be used for improving medical imaging.

More precise measurements of atoms using telescopes!

The best large telescopes with their high-precision instruments are able to probe the properties of atoms and molecules as well as laboratory experiments. The added advantage they have is that they can perform measurements on particles that are not able to be studied in the lab. This technique has been the first to measure certain properties of atmospheric nitrogen and other molecules.


Building a better atomic clock

The most precise measurements of time come from atomic clocks and are critically important for advanced telecommunications and other high-tech applications. However, the most precise atomic clocks are bulky devices, only suitable for laboratory use. Now, two groups will present their progress in making miniature atomic clocks [B4.002/B4.003]. Other groups will report on the application of precise atomic clocks for testing Einstein's general relativity on the International Space Station [B4.001] and determining whether the universe's fundamental "constants" really are constant [B4.004].

B4.001, B4.002, B4.003, B4.004

Lasers that learn

Ultrafast strong lasers are revolutionizing atomic, molecular and optical physics. They create the shortest pulses of light ever seen, are able to watch chemical reactions in progress and can control how molecules interact. To achieve their remarkable tasks, these lasers use "learning loops" - feedback loops that discover and create unusual optical pulse shapes - to control the chemical, electronic or physical dynamics of matter.


Best mass comparison ever, used to test Einstein's relativity

MIT physicists have improved on the world's most accurate mass comparisons by a factor of 10. They achieved this by carefully observing the waltz of two ions in a magnetic trap [F3.004]. The group then used the technique to measure the energy to mass conversion in a nuclear reaction, providing a new type of test of Einstein's special relativity [F3.005].

F3.00, F3.005

The speed of information - faster than the speed of light?

In recent years, there have been many claims of transmitting light pulses faster than the normally accepted speed limit for light. However, it has never been directly tested whether these techniques could transmit information faster than the usual speed limit and thereby violate Einstein's special relativity. At the DAMOP meeting, a group from Duke University will present the results of their experiments to directly test the speed of information.


What makes a good physics department?

The National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics has just completed a survey of all 759 bachelors degree granting physics programs in the US and site visits of 21 leading departments. The study reveals that thriving physics departments feature energetic leadership, involvement of most faculty in undergraduate teaching, a challenging but supportive curriculum, many opportunities for informal student-faculty interactions, flexible programs, career mentoring and a strong sense of community shared by faculty and students. Robert Hilborn from Amherst College will discuss the project and its results [L1.001]. A group from Colorado College will discuss how physics departments have successfully attracted higher than usual participation by women in undergraduate programs. The critical factor is a strong female-friendly departmental culture that reaches out to include students in the introductory physics course. Many threads weave together to create this culture and the details will be discussed in session [M3.002].

L1.001, M3.002

About APS

The American Physical Society is a non-profit membership organization working to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics through its outstanding research journals, scientific meetings, and education, outreach, advocacy, and international activities. APS represents over 53,000 members, including physicists in academia, national laboratories, and industry in the United States and throughout the world. Society offices are located in College Park, MD (Headquarters), Ridge, NY, and Washington, D.C.