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Chemical Physics

Chemical physicists at JILA probe the structure and dynamics of matter; investigate and control chemical reactions; study the processes of combustion and solvation; explore the interface between liquids and gases as well as investigate the behavior of atoms and molecules under high pressure. They use advanced laser-based techniques to better understand hydrogen bonding, hydration, electron transfer, the making and breaking of chemical bonds, chemical reactions, the formation of ash, and the fundamental interactions of light with matter. Theorists simulate the molecular processes probed in experiments to explain results and guide future investigations.

Research in chemical physics informs the development of more efficient semiconductor devices and extends our fundamental understanding of femtosecond lasers, microscopy, and chemical reactions. The goals of chemical-physics research at JILA include applying ultracold-matter techniques to cold chemistry, understanding combustion and interstellar chemistry, figuring out chemistry at the gas/liquid border, discovering the flow of energy through molecules, elucidating the structure and reactivity of gas phase ions, investigating surface science, and exploring high-pressure chemical physics. JILA's chemical physicists are looking for answers to such questions as:


  • What happens to isolated molecules when they are solvated one molecule at a time?
  • How large must molecular clusters be to exhibit the properties of bulk solutions?
  • What does the border between a gas and a liquid look like at the nanoscale?
  • What are the structures and reaction dynamics of negative ions?
  • Are there common chemical pathways for the formation of ash during combustion on Earth at high temperatures and the formation of soot in outer space at very cold temperatures?
  • To what extent can we understand and predict chemical reactions from first principles?
  • How can we use high pressure to make new materials from nano particles?