Immanuel Bloch (Scientific Director, Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) works on ultracold atoms in artificial crystals of light, and was the first to realize a quantum phase transition from a superfluid to a Mott insulator. He has received multiple awards, including the Gottfried Willhelm Leibniz Prize and the Korber European Science Prize.
PI: Scientific discoveries often happen where two or more fields intersect. What is your favourite scientific intersection, and why?
IB: My group is a good example of the theme of convergence, because our work deals with artificial quantum many-body systems. We create these ultra-cold atoms and load them on artificial crystals of light, and then we can test fundamental theories from very different fields on them. We're mimicking crystalline systems, so the natural analogue is always the condensed matter setting. But we can also test questions of statistical physics, or even high-energy physics problems.
We've applied these to solve some problems that quantum field theorists had with our ultra-cold-atom setup. There are even string theorists who are looking to how they can use their methods to predict behaviours of these quantum many-body systems. What is truly interesting is that we can make quantum systems isolated from the rest of the world. It’s like a small universe in your lab. You can see how it behaves and it's not connected to anything else. That makes it pretty special.
PI: Have you ever had a eureka moment?
IB: Certainly! When we were seeing these atoms for the first time in the lab, atom-by-atom we could envisage those particles – that was really a dream come true. In previous talks, I could only make sketches and animations of how that should look, but now we could really see this many-body system atom-by-atom. That was actually a fantastic moment. You feel like a child again. It’s amazing when you’re seeing something truly for the first time – something nobody else in the world has ever seen before. Those are the moments in science that make being a scientist so great.
PI: How do you recharge your batteries, so to speak?
IB: I'm an avid runner. Usually, before I go to work in the morning, I try to run for an hour. That really helps me to focus and get the energy to work. Sometimes I think about research, sometimes I listen to music, sometimes I just try to connect with nature. As a scientist, you're trying to connect with nature all the time, but when I'm running I just try to enjoy the nature around me – the birds, the sunrise – and just see and hear what’s around me. I'm looking forward to running around Waterloo.
Immanuel Bloch will discuss Quantum Many-Body Experiments at 9am on Tuesday, June 23.
"It’s amazing when you’re seeing something truly for the first time."