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Physical Sciences and Engineering

Cold Atoms and Molecules

Argonne researchers employ myriad cooling and trapping techniques to precisely control the external and internal degree of freedom of atoms and molecules of interest.

Argonne employs atomic and molecular cooling and trapping techniques to precisely control the external and internal degree of freedom of multiple species. These techniques are ideal for performing precision measurements and sensitive detection of rare isotopes. Specific examples of basic and applied research that leverage cold atoms and molecules include:

Atom Trap Trace Analysis

We have advanced the science of krypton dating to a practical level for young (~10-50 years) and ancient (30-2000 kyrs) groundwater and glacial ice with Atom Trap Trace Analysis (ATTA).

Electric Dipole Moment of Radium-225

We are engaged in a search for the electric dipole moment of Radium-225, a short-lived isotope of the element radium. According to the Standard Model, this property is expected to be unmeasurably small. However, Beyond Standard Model theories predict this property to be much larger. Our search is based on laser manipulation of neutral Ra-225 atoms to cool them to near absolute zero and trap them in a laser beam for a sensitive measurement of their electric dipole moment.


The Cold molecule Nuclear Time-Reversal EXperiment (CeNTREX) aims to significantly improve the best present upper bounds on the strength of hadronic time reversal (T) violating fundamental interactions. The experimental signature will be shifts in nuclear magnetic resonance frequencies of Tl-205 in electrically-polarized thallium fluoride (TlF) molecules. The first generation of CeNTREX, now under construction, will use a cryogenic molecular beam of TlF and will perform state preparation and detection using optical cycling. Later generations of CeNTREX aim to laser cool and trap the TlF molecules for increased sensitivity.

Beta-neutrino Angular Correlation

We search for signatures of physics beyond the Standard Model by measuring the relative angle between the electron and the neutrino that result from the beta decay of unstable nuclei. These experiments require precision control of the initial state and sensitive detection of all outgoing particles, since the direction of the unobserved neutrino can only be deduced from the direction and energy of all other particles. Laser traps provide an ideal environment in this respect. The isotope of interest is Helium-6, with a lifetime of less than one second. These nuclei need to be produced at an accelerator facility, captured, and detected within a fraction of a second.

Ytterbium Optical Tweezer Arrays

We cool and trap single ytterbium atoms into re-configurable optical tweezer arrays. Our goal is to use this platform to perform quantum simulations of strongly interacting systems that provide insight into poorly understood phenomena in nuclear physics.  Additionally, we aim to leverage electronic transitions in the ytterbium atom at telecom-compatible wavelengths to demonstrate the utility of this platform to quantum communications. 

    • Jakob Kastelic (Yale)
    • Jianhui Li (Columbia)
    • Jose Manuel Escobar Rodriguez (UChicago)
    • Yuanhang Yang (UChicago)
    • Tristan Winich (UMass Amherst)
    • Yuanhang Yang (UChicago)
    • Zeyu Ye (UChicago)