Physicist Michael Chapman is aiming for absolute zero… zero Kelvin, that is. Head of the Ultracold Atomic Physics and Quantum Optics research group at Georgia Tech, Chapman has cooled atoms to temperatures within a millionth of a degree of absolute zero—the temperature at which the motion of all matter stops (- 459.67 F).
Chapman's lab pioneered a technique using lasers to create the gaseous superfluid known as Bose-Einstein condensate that some atoms form as they near absolute zero. Once atoms are in this state they act in concert moving in phase, the same way photons do in a laser. Studying atoms at this level could lead to some interesting discoveries into the fundamental properties of atoms, said Chapman.
He also built the Nevatron, the world's first storage ring able to confine and guide these ultracold neutral atoms in a circular path, a sort of fiber optical cable for atoms.
Building better atomic clocks and aircraft guidance systems are just two reasons why physicists want to study atoms at their coldest state. Quantum computing is another. Traditional computers carry information in bits of ones and zeros, whereas quantum computers would carry information via atoms in various quantum states. Instead of just having the two states of bits to transport information, atoms can have many more, allowing them to perform faster and more complex calculations.
"The current trajectory of computers based on Moore's law is going to come to an end, so what do you do after that," said Chapman. "Quantum computing is one window that has a lot of light shining through it."
Chapman earned his doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1995. He came to Tech in 1997.