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Laser Physics

JILA physicists manipulate light to produce ultrashort laser pulses and then study these pulses to gain insight into the fundamental properties of light itself. Via techniques in laser physics, they explore the fastest processes in the natural world using ultrafast pulses on the femtosecond (10-15 s), attosecond (10-18 s), and zeptosecond (10-21 s) time scales. This research explores the complex, interwoven dance of electrons in matter: how electrons can be manipulated using light fields, how electrons influence each other, and how electrons and atoms are dynamically coupled in molecules and materials. As part of this research, JILA scientists have developed ultrafast laser and x-ray sources that are now in use throughout the world for applications in science, technology, industry, and medicine.

This work in laser physics is intertwined with the development of extreme light sources, molecular fingerprinting and control, and the precise control of ultrafast pulses. Ultrafast lasers can now deliver "designer" light pulses whose applications include the study and control of dynamical processes in chemistry, biology, materials science, medicine, telecommunications, and nanotechnology. This research also impacts signal processing, precision measurement, optical frequency standards, and optical atomic clocks.


  • Can we create ‘designer’ laser pulses that interact with quantum systems more efficiently than traditional laser pulses?
  • How can we use laser light to control a chemical reaction?
  • Can an experiment mimic a natural chemical or biological system's ability to select the optimal optical waveform to enhance a particular process?