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Atomic Physics in the Era of Control: What every physicist should know about the 2012 Physics Nobel Prize

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To say that atomic, molecular, and optical (AMO) physics underwent a revival in
the 80s and 90s is to acknowledge that it was in need of reviving. Prior to this
rebirth, high-quality research was being done in many labs, but it was primarily
passive with respect to atomic motion. The demonstration of laser cooling in
1978 ushered in a new era where the full quantum states (internal and external)
of atoms would be precisely controlled in the following decades. This control
has essentially given today’s AMO physicist the power to “realize the gedanken”
and build experiments that exploit quantum mechanics to perform computations,
simulations, and measurements with tremendous speed and precision. I will
discuss some of the current challenges and potential of this exciting time in
the field of AMO physics through the lens of a case study of some of the work of
this year’s Nobel Laureates, Dave Wineland and Serge Haroche.