Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
MIT and Harvard University have created the Center for Ultracold Atoms with sponsorship by the National Science Foundation.
"The primary goal of the center is to pursue opportunities for new science and technology that have been made possible by the discovery of coherent atom sources and the creation of atom optics," said Daniel Kleppner, the Lester Wolfe Professor of Physics at MIT and director of the center. "The center's groups at MIT and Harvard are world leaders in these fields. Now, the center will allow them to merge their expertise to pursue goals that are beyond the capabilities of individual groups," he said.
In addition to Professor Kleppner, the MIT principal investigators are physics professors Thomas J. Greytak, Wolfgang Ketterle and David E. Pritchard. At Harvard, the principal investigators are professors Alexander Dalgarno, John Doyle, who is co-director of the center, Eric J. Heller and Mara Prentiss.
The core research program of the Center for Ultracold Atoms will be carried out in four dedicated laboratories, two at MIT and two at Harvard. However, the center's activities will involve a much larger community, encompassing approximately 100 students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty.
In addition, the center, which will be inaugurated on Nov. 7, will sponsor workshops, conferences and visits by students, postdoctoral researchers and senior researchers.
"With the discovery of atomic Bose-Einstein condensates, a new field of exploration in quantum fluids was suddenly opened, providing new opportunities to study the nature of quantum systems. In addition, the condensates can provide intense sources of coherent atoms, as was dramatically demonstrated in the development of the atom laser," Professor Kleppner said. "More or less in parallel with this advance, the field of atom optics was created, in which atom waves are manipulated much like light waves.
"By merging these developments, atom lasers can provide sources for atom optics that are many millions of times brighter than conventional atom sources, with an impact on atom optics somewhat comparable to that of the impact of the laser on ordinary optics. Such an achievement would provide new probes of matter and new opportunities for ultra-sensitive measurements," he said. In addition, these techniques have potential applications to atom lithography and the creation of nano-structures.
"The possibilities for experimental discoveries, the wealth of theoretical problems and the expectations that these will lead to new science and to new technologies have generated extraordinary enthusiasm in a growing community," Professor Kleppner said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 1, 2000.