Atomic, molecular, and optical physics (AMO) is, as its name suggests, the branch of physics that studies the interactions of atoms, molecules, and light. AMO physics lies behind much of the physics of lasers and other everyday devices. You may have recently heard about AMO in connection with the Nobel Prize in physics --- several recent prizes have gone to AMO physicists.
The KSU-AMO program boasts one of the largest groups of AMOP faculty at a U.S. university and is primarily organized around the J.R. Macdonald Laboratory (JRM). The JRM houses several major facilities, including the lasers of the Kansas Light Source (KLS), several ion sources, and ion accelerators. The KLS is the newest addition to the Lab and has helped put JRM at the forefront of ultrafast, intense laser science. Among other things, JRM researchers are using the KLS to directly image electronic and molecular processes, to generate attosecond laser pulses, to control and utilize the carrier-envelope phase, to manipulate the generation of high-harmonics from atoms and molecules, and ultimately to understand the physics of intense lasers interacting with atoms and molecules. Much of the KSU-AMOP theoretical effort is related to these topics as well.
KSU-AMO faculty also engage in considerable research not directly connected with the JRML. We have experimentalists working with frequency combs, for instance, trying to produce improved frequency standards for the telecommunications industry. Work is also underway to improve optical fiber-based lasers. Our large AMO program is well known for fruitful collaborations between its experimental and theoretical groups. We have a theory group working on the physics of ultracold few-body collisions and three-particle interactions important for Bose-Einstein condensation and degenerate Fermi gases. Another theory group is working on the electronic structure of atoms, the breaking and formation of chemical bonds in intense pulses of laser light, and on interactions of light and ions with surfaces and nanoparticles. A third group of AMO theorists models how laser light can be used to accelerate atomic and molecular electrons, such that they scatter in a controllable way off their parent atoms or molecules, leading to bursts of secondary energetic radiation and allowing the imaging of molecular structures.
Controlled assembly of nanoparticles into two and three-dimensional solids, atoms and polymers adsorbed on surfaces, growth of nanowires and their interface to living cells, stretching single molecules, magnetic vortices and materials, nanolithography and nucleation of soot in flames; these are all among the many subjects of soft matter physics at K-State. Our eclectic soft matter group works at the interface between physics, chemistry and biology to understand how the manifold properties of soft matter emerge. Our research extends to biophysics and solid state.
Have you ever wondered what the smallest indivisible particles of matter and energy might be? K-State particle physicists use some of the largest scientific instruments on Earth to measure the smallest constituents of matter and energy in the universe. Such elementary particles include quarks, which are the building blocks of the protons and neutrons in atomic nuclei, and neutrinos, which are practically invisible particles emitted by stars and decaying nuclei.
Have you ever wondered about the physical properties of the universe on the largest scale? K-State cosmologists study the structure and nature of matter and energy on a literally cosmic scale using data from the world's most advanced telescopes and satellites and scientific theories from every field of physical science, including particle physics. Sometimes it is even possible to use the cosmos itself as a scientific instrument: for example, an upper limit on the neutrino mass can be derived from the realization that neutrinos fill the universe and yet do not cause it to collapse.
Have you ever wondered why some people struggle with math and science and others just get it? The K-State Physics Education Research Group (K-SUPER) investigates student learning from the perspective of research physicists. K-SUPER investigations focus on how people learn physics and related topics, how students develop from novices to professionals, what cognitive mechanisms underlie learning, and which teaching materials are effective.