Students Rene Gonzalez ‘17, Eduardo Alejandro ‘17 (l. to r.), and Assistant Professor of Physics Anne Goodsell used lasers to control the movement of atoms.

According to Goodsell, she and the students set the energy of their laser light to perfectly match the energy that atoms can absorb, and then used lasers to make individual atoms in a gas heat up, cool down, or come to a nearly complete stop in midair. They used simple mechanics, like Newton’s law of motion F = ma, and quantum mechanics to predict how the atoms absorbed light and how the light changed the paths of atoms. They also did experiments that confirmed their predictions or showed them new behavior for moving atoms.

“In our recent paper, we have completed the first two steps of making our moving atoms even more sensitive to electric forces, by exciting atoms with two packets of light—two photons—of different energy,” said Goodsell. “Eventually, we’ll be able to launch our highly excited atoms into unknown electric fields. By measuring the motion of the excited atoms, we′ll learn about those unknown fields.”