Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Cold atoms and molecules

Theoretical and experimental studies of atomic and molecular species cooled to sub-millikelvin temperatures and their science applications.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Research into theoretical and experimental methods for cooling atomic and molecular species to sub-millikelvin temperatures and the science applications of these systems
(studies of properties and applications of Bose-Einstein condensates and Fermi gases).

Experimental tunability, control and unrivalled cleanliness make these systems ideal emulators for many-body phenomena like superfluidity and quantum magnetism, and provide a powerful resource for metrology and quantum information processing. There is strong crossover with the Quantum Optics and Information and the Quantum Devices, Components and Systems research areas.

Encouraging existing research groups

We will sustain the UK’s world-leading activities in this area by continuing to encourage research within key existing, high-quality research groups.

Within these research groups, we will encourage delivery of blue-skies science and underpinning contributions to novel quantum technologies. Capital and capacity from the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP), the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) should be leveraged and used within this framework.

Our strategy means that:

  • critical-mass activities should be concentrated in multidisciplinary projects and collaborations that use emergent applications at the interface with other disciplines or maintain specific unique UK capabilities
  • contributions to quantum simulation, chemistry, technology, sensing and metrology are expected
  • outcome-focused research (particularly research which can underpin and deliver against EPSRC’s outcomes or deliver technology transfer) will be encouraged, through engagement and alignment between existing and future investments in the UKNQT, innovation partners and other critical-mass activities.

We aim to support both early career and established career researchers through existing research centres, networked activities and collaboration between key research groups.

These should drive research in related areas of the EPSRC portfolio, contribute to the EPSRC outcomes framework and develop applications. We will monitor training needs to ensure support is maintained to safeguard current research activities.

Why we're doing it

World leading research groups

The UK has a strong cold atoms and molecules portfolio with a number of groups considered internationally leading. They represent unique capabilities in cold molecules, controlled quantum dynamics, spectroscopy, atomic traps, Rydberg physics and technological applications.

In line with previous EPSRC strategy, the breadth of experimental research has contracted leaving a smaller number of high-quality, core-capability research groups.

International investment

Recognised as a key underpinning research area for quantum technologies, this area has seen heavy international investment. Industry engagement is extant and specific but low-intensity.

Key partners are typically in the metrology and defence sectors. The area is relevant to EPSRC Outcomes as a key enabler of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, time measurement, gravity sensors and analytical science. In the long term it will have tangential outputs through healthcare technologies based on atomic sensing and imaging.

Equipment sharing

Experimental groups are infrastructure-heavy and set-ups must be maintained over the course of an experimental run, making equipment-sharing or a facilities model difficult. Equipment is upgraded incrementally to realise new generations of experiments and to incorporate new technology and techniques.

Theory work can require high performance computing (HPC) access and specialist software for which the Collaborative Computational Project Q (CCPQ) is a key provider. Support from the UKNQT has provided additional capital focused on technology realisation, miniaturisation and hybrid quantum systems.

Capital equipment

The landscape has shaped itself around the capital equipment, establishing specific institutional research centres led by field-leading established-career academics, supporting early-career academics and hosting small cohorts of associated PhDs. Theoretical groups are often hosted by, or associated with, these centres, driving strong interdisciplinary collaboration and links between groups.

Crossover potential

There is significant research crossover potential, most notably with Quantum Optics and Information, Quantum Devices, Components and Systems, Light-Matter Interaction and Condensed Matter – Electronic Structure, and specific activities crossover with chemistry, materials simulation, analytical science and far-from-equilibrium physics.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Cold Atoms and Molecules.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Last updated: 21 December 2022

This is the website for UKRI: our seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK. Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help improve our online products and services.