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Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:University of Alabama at Birmingham
  • Clayton E Simien
  • (205) 934-5266
Award Date:08/14/2014
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 229,627
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 345,063
  • FY 2016=$54,507
  • FY 2015=$65,307
  • FY 2014=$114,813
  • FY 2017=$110,436
Start Date:08/15/2014
End Date:12/31/2020
Transaction Type:Grant
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.049
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Spectroscopic, Collisional, and Laser Cooling Studies of Atomic Gadolinium
Federal Award ID Number:1404496
DUNS ID:063690705
Parent DUNS ID:808245794
Program Officer:
  • John D. Gillaspy
  • (703) 292-7173

Awardee Location

Street:AB 1170
Awardee Cong. District:07

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:University of Alabama at Birmingham
Street:1300 University Blvd
Cong. District:07

Abstract at Time of Award

A new element will be investigated as a prospective candidate for a next generation optical atomic clock and for laser cooling. Atomic clocks have been instrumental in the advancement of science and technology in the twentieth century, leading to innovations such as global positioning, advance communications, and tests of fundamental particle physics. A next generation optical atomic clock would extend the capabilities of these systems and will enable a renaissance of timing applications such as enhanced security for data routing and communications, advanced earth and space time-based navigation, geophysical surveying, testing Einstein's Theory of General Relativity, and searches for variations in the fundamental constants of the universe. Laser cooling is a technique for which the mechanical action of light is used to reduce the velocity of an atom in a gas. The use of lasers to cool atoms opened up new frontiers in physics ranging from the formation of new states of matter to enabling novel nanotechnologies. The extension of laser cooling to a new atomic species will enable the creation of novel ultracold atomic systems with unique properties and dynamics. The goal of this project is to investigate the atomic physics properties and implement laser cooling of atomic gadolinium for its potential use as an optical frequency standard and as a step to create new research avenues in atomic physics cross-fertilized with condensed matter physics. More specifically, these experiments will use lasers as a probe to determine the influence of external perturbations that limits its accuracy as an atomic clock. In addition, the spectral features of gadolinium will be characterized as a diagnostic tool to determine its cooling limits. This specific milestone will enable a gadolinium optical clock of greater accuracy and the realization of exotic ultracold quantum physics systems. This research program will support and train undergraduate and graduate students to become the next generation of scientists and engineers for fundamental and applied research in Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics. This project is an experimental research program directed towards investigating collisional and spectroscopic properties of atomic gadolinium (Gd). Gd is a novel class of atom that has an exotic electronic configuration and large ground state magnetic moment, which allows it to have submerged shell optical clock transitions, ultracold collisions having ground state angular momentum, and exotic quantum gas phases and phenomenon dominated by dipole-dipole forces. In particular, the collision studies involve measurements of collision quenching cross sections, and pressure broadening and shifts of the atomic states and line shapes of the optical clock and laser cooling transitions inside a Gd vapor cell. The objective is to characterize the collision sensitivity of these atomic transitions to give insight into the combined action of electron screening and configurational interactions. In addition, the radiative lifetimes, hyperfine structure, and isotope shifts of identified intercombination laser cooling transitions will be determined using laser induce fluorescence spectroscopy with an atomic beam. The determination of these spectroscopic properties are necessary for implementing narrow-line laser cooling for both bosonic and fermonic isotopes of gadolinium. Narrow-line laser cooling is essential for achieving quantum degeneracy with gadolinium, since its large ground state magnetic moment prevents evaporative cooling in a magnetic trap. In addition, laser cooling and trapping using electric-dipole transitions will be executed to create a magneto-optical trap of gadolinium as a first step towards performing precision measurements, investigating ultracold collision, and for studying atomic dipolar physics. The experimental program will have three categories of broader impacts. First, forbidden transitions of rare earth elements are virtually unexplored. These atomic resonances are well suited as potential candidates for next generation frequency standards, with Q-factors nearly four orders of magnitude larger than current neutral atom clock lines, a suppression of black-body radiations shifts by exponents in the fine structure constant, and reduced sensitivity to collision. Moreover, for Standard Model Physics, these transitions have enhanced sensitivities to variations in the fine structure constant. Second, a laser cooled and trapped gas of gadolinium will have many applications: For nuclear physics, astrophysics, and biomedicine, laser cooled Gd will allow for economizing nuclear fuel consumption, ultrasensitive isotope trace analysis of the element for cosmo-chemical studies and biomedical sample testing respectively. Also with respect to nanostructure fabrication, an ultracold gas of Gd can be used for controlled doping or nanoscale milling to create novel magnetic devices. Third, graduate and undergraduate students who will help perform the proposed experiments will be trained. A goal of this project is to attract and retain more students in Atomic Molecular and Optical physics through the involvement of university students in the proposed experiments. This is augmented by the fact that the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a major research institution in the geographical region with an annual enrollment of nearly 18,000 students, and the research project involves the extensive use of lasers that is ideal for capturing a student's imagination. An additional goal is to recruit underrepresented minorities, which represents 25 percent of UAB's student population. Underrepresented minorities represent a large untapped wealth of potential for becoming contributors in the fields of science and engineering. To help address this matter a major plan is to involve minority graduate, undergraduate, and high school students via existing UAB outreach and REU programs to participate in research projects in the Simien Spectroscopy and Laser Cooling group. Furthermore, special outreach activities will be done with the aim to get K - 12 students interested in science and engineering by performing various physics, chemistry, and material science demonstration at local schools in the region.

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

As a result of support from the National Science Foundation, a world-class innovative and transformative research program in Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (AMOP), specifically in the areas of precision spectroscopy and ultracold atoms/ions was initiated and established in the Department of Physics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), in Birmingham, AL. This is the first of its kind of research being done at UAB, and was the first in the state of Alabama. 

To that end, our research group has constructed and developed experimental apparatus to perform investigations on an atomic species (gadolinium) which was virtually unexplored in the laser cooling and trapping scientific community. The type of experiments conducted in our laboratory cross-fertilizes serval disciplines in physics, and will ultimately generate new research avenues for studying fundamental physics, and foster technological advances in the time keeping, medical, and nuclear industries.

For example, our research group was the first to measure inside an atomic forbidden domain of gadolinium using a highly tuned laser in an atomic gas cell. The results of these measurements were surprising, and could possible aid in searches for hypothetical new particles or suggest current theoretical physics does not account for the gadolinium's atomic uniqueness. Moreover, we have measured additional internal properties of atomic gadolinium, and built apparatus to enable cooling of this atom to a temperature where quantum physics dominates.

In our research group, two graduate and two undergraduate students in physics and engineering have helped conduct this research over the years. The two graduate students were Upendra Adhikari and Kevin Battles, and they both have written and published technical manuscripts, presented research at local and national conferences, and completed their Doctorate in Philosophy and Master's of Science degrees in Physics respectively. Currently, Upendra is a research scientist in industry, were he applies laser science techniques to develop state-of-the-art medical devices. Kevin Battles is a now a junior quantum researcher at Georgia Institution of Technology working on quantum computing systems.

In addition, this project has involved student participants from underrepresenative groups. All the students involved in this project were exposed to experimental atomic physics techniques, and therefore have acquired the science and technological skill sets to perform job tasks in any technical sector that involves lasers, optics, electronics, and data science. Moreover, these students have move forward in their respective careers in physics or engineering as professionals in various capacities, therefore this project has contributed to human resource in science and technology that will help maintain American economic strength and global competiveness.


Last Modified: 05/01/2021
Modified by: Clayton E Simien

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