UNIVERSITY OF ARIZONA
Vortex dynamics in fluids and superfluids lie at the hearts of many important phenomena in physics, including turbulence and the breakdown of superconductivity. While successful models of the bulk properties of such phenomena have been produced, detailed microscopic descriptions that include the roles of vortices have been exceptionally difficult to develop. This NSF award supports research aimed at filling this crucial niche through the experimental study of Bose-Einstein condensates. Made of millions of trapped atoms in an ultracold vapor, Bose-Einstein condensates can be manipulated and detected in the laboratory with microscopic precision, and theoretically understood and modeled with techniques utilizing microscopic descriptions of atomic interactions and quantum mechanics. As the coldest known objects in the universe, dilute-gas condensates also act as coherent fluids and can be used to study fluid and superfluid phenomena in ways not possible before their first experimental observations in 1995. This research program integrates NSF-supported laboratory work with the theoretical efforts of international colleagues into a larger collaborative investigation of turbulence physics, phase transition dynamics, and new vortex creation and manipulation mechanisms in gaseous superfluids. This work pieces together some of the most difficult parts of the larger puzzle of building a microscopic understanding of vortex behavior, turbulence, and related phenomena in fluids and superfluids. The results of this research are thus expected to have significant and exciting broader impacts in the development of physics as a discipline, and in a wide area of specific fundamental and applied physics topics. By investigating new techniques for vortex manipulation, this study will also develop tools of utility to potential future techniques utilizing quantum-level information processing. As the education of students is certainly one of the most important aspects of federally sponsored research, this project involves undergraduate and graduate students; the education of both groups is key to maintaining national and international strength in science and technology. The majority of this award is allocated to the financial support of graduate students in order to teach these students state-of-the-art experimental techniques in a cutting-edge area of research, and more generally how to do high-quality independent research. These graduate students will carry on a tradition of technical excellence as they eventually merge into other laboratory settings, and will be suited to effectively teach research skills to future generations of graduate students.