Science and Engineering

Columbia University

Tanya Zelevinsky, John Doyle
New York, NY
June 2019

Since the advent of laser technology, chemical physicists have aspired for bond-specific control of chemical reactions.  Applied at ultracold temperatures where quantum effects become important, such control would enable researchers to slice a molecule into desired constituents with an exquisite manipulation of the molecular quantum states.  This level of finesse has not yet been achieved because of the experimental and theoretical complexity associated with internal dynamics of even the simplest molecules.  Researchers at Columbia and Harvard Universities will pursue a new approach leveraging recent ideas introduced by the PIs and others: separating the goal of species selection from the challenging step of molecular laser cooling by precisely dissociating the desired species from a larger molecule that is amenable to direct cooling.  They will develop laser cooling of increasingly complex molecules, and use these to create an unprecedented diversity of ultracold species via bond-specific dissociation, beginning with radicals such as H, OH, CH3, and NH2.  Just as early discoveries in quantum physics changed our daily lives in ways that could not have been predicted, ultracold quantum-mechanical chemistry will lead to valuable applications and fundamental discoveries including searches for new particles that extend the Standard Model as well as high-precision measurements of fundamental constants and their time variations.  The techniques pioneered here will revolutionize ultracold chemistry by producing a suite of new molecules and new techniques for steering chemical reactions, and enabling novel experiments that will yield fresh insights into the origins of biomolecular chirality and possibilities of quantum information storage within molecular degrees of freedom.

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