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Awards Give Boost to UK Physics Research
Dec 2006
SWINDON, England, Dec. 29, 2006 -- Seven Science and Innovation Awards totaling more than £12 million ($23 million) include funding to allow three United Kingdom universities to collaborate on quantum coherence and will help two other schools establish a new research center on ultracold atoms.

The Swindon-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) announced the awards last week. EPSRC is the main UK government agency responsible for funding research and training in engineering and the physical sciences, investing approximately $979 million a year.

One award will fund a quantum physics research collaboration between the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. The £6 million (approximately $11.7 million) award will allow the three universities to share expertise from their respective physics departments to examine quantum coherence, a defining characteristic of quantum mechanics.

The universities said the concept of quantum coherence cuts across many areas of physics, including quantum optics, atomic physics and condensed matter of nanostructures. It is a foundation for much of the advanced research in physics, nanoscience and chemistry and is promising in important new technologies, including quantum information processing (quantum computers), control of the synthesis of molecules and nanosystems, and advanced measurement systems.

The money will enable Cambridge to appoint two new specialists in ultracold atoms and another in semiconductor optics, the university said. It is also investing an additional £3 million ($5.8 million) of its own money in new equipment and rehabbing existing facilities within its Cavendish Laboratory to help further improve its capacity for experimental research in coherent quantum systems.

The university said the new funding adds to a hiring program currently underway at Cavendish, where it will be adding six lecturers, three professors and two readers to the Department of Physics' staff over the next two years. The university is also building the £12.5 million Centre for the Physics of Medicine to house interdisciplinary research in medicine and biology and a new Kavli Institute of Cosmology -- a joint venture with the Institute of Astronomy and the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics.

Professor Peter Littlewood, Cambridge’s principal investigator in the collaboration, said, “We see tremendous opportunities in the science and technology of manipulating the quantum states of light and matter, a discipline that now spans atomic physics, optics and condensed matter, and that is moving forward at a great rate.

“Because of the breadth of this subject, it is important to have a collective national effort. Oxford, Imperial and Cambridge have complementary skills and research programs so we can help each other to move forward. We already have many collaborative activities, and I am looking forward to making these even stronger.”

Imperial said its share of the grant will be used to fund and support two new academic posts in the Department of Physics. The new posts will work alongside existing senior academics in the department specializing in this field. The two posts will reflect the two interlocking themes which Imperial will be focusing on in the collaboration: looking at quantum coherence within the states of molecules and other isolated quantum systems, and the experimental aspects of controlling quantum coherence between molecules. Funding for post-graduate students and post-doctoral researchers to work with the new staff members is also supported by the grant.

Professor Jonathan Marangos from Imperial's Department of Physics said, "This is an extremely exciting new area of science and the EPSRC's significant funding will enable us to set up of state-of-the-art laboratories and computational facilities to enable this work to be carried out in an environment that is second to none.

"The project will allow us to work closely with our colleagues at Oxford and Cambridge and provides funds to hold training and workshop activities to boost this type of research across the UK."

Also receiving nearly £6 million to establish the Midlands Ultracold Atom Research Centre were the universities of Birmingham and Nottingham. The center will be established between the schools of physics and astronomy at the universities.

In announcing the award, the EPSRC said it will "generate a step change in the capacity and impact of UK research at the interface between cold atoms, condensed matter, and optical physics by establishing an interdisciplinary research center. This vast new field, recognised by the 1997 and 2001 Nobel Prizes in Physics, is driving a revolution in quantum physics and progress is accelerating at an astonishing rate."

Science and Innovation Awards were introduced by EPSRC in 2005 to support research areas that are seen as lacking. For more information, visit:

The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
Smallest amount into which the energy of a wave can be divided. The quantum is proportional to the frequency of the wave. See photon.
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