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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/M014398/1
Title: Rydberg soft matter
Principal Investigator: Adams, Professor CS
Other Investigators:
Weatherill, Professor KJ Jones, Professor MPA
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: Physics
Organisation: Durham, University of
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 30 June 2015 Ends: 27 December 2019 Value (£): 609,091
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Cold Atomic Species Quantum Optics & Information
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
No relevance to Underpinning Sectors
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
25 Sep 2014 EPSRC Physical Sciences Physics - September 2014 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
The world around us is in a state of constant change. Physicists refer to this as being "far-from-equilibrium". Far-from-equilibrium systems are common throughout nature, and non-equilibrium dynamics is encountered in problems as distinct and varied as biological self-assembly and the behaviour of financial markets. Remarkably, even though physics is a very mature and advanced field, it has comparatively little to say about systems far-from-equilibrium. In this proposal we will help to fill this void by exploiting atomic systems where we have complete control over interparticle interactions, but which also display a remarkable richness in their collective and far-from-equilibrium behaviour. Our atomic system is based on individual atoms where we can control the interactions using laser pulses to promote the atoms to highly excited states known as Rydberg states. An ensemble of atoms excited to Rydberg states can display complex spatial and temporal dynamics that are analogous in many ways to soft matter systems such as colloids or glasses. Due the capability to control microscopic interactions, this "Rydberg soft matter" offers the possibility to gain new insight into how the microscopics determine the collective macroscopic behaviour, both in dynamics and structure. A second special feature of Rydbergs is the ability to control the relative importance of quantum effects. By studying small systems where quantum fluctuations dominate we can probe the boundary between the quantum and classical worlds, and study quantum triggers of classical events which relate to fundamental questions such as macroscopic entanglement and the quantum measurement problem. Such systems also offer considerable potential for applications in the emerging area of quantum technology.

Rydberg soft matter offers an unprecedented opportunity to break new ground in some of the most flourishing areas of current research. Significant progress, however, demands a close interplay between theory and experiment. To address this we have assembled an interdisciplinary team of theorists and experimentalists, all based in the UK, but with a combined expertise that is unique worldwide. We will begin by developing the microscopic theory which is relatively straightforward and easily tested by experiment. The challenge comes in extending the microscopic theory to treat many particles. At this stage we need experiments to validate the approximations and guide the direction of the theoretical development. Finally, the theory will guide the experiments to answer fundamental questions and develop potential applications. The novelty of Rydberg soft matter, the close interlinking of theory and experiment, and the unique skill set of the investigators will allow us to pioneer new directions in physics that address key questions both fundamental and applied.
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