Science and Engineering

University of Denver

Mark Siemens, Mark Lusk
Denver, CO
$1,000,000
June 2019

A team of physicists from the University of Denver and the Colorado School of Mines plan to generate, control, and measure topological fluids made purely of light.  Their transformative idea is to treat optical vortices, whirling phase singularities in the light field that have dark centers and quantized angular momentum, as interacting quasiparticles.  In this representation, the dynamics are that of an emergent quantum fluid.  Vortices and their interactions dominate the properties of turbulent quantum fluids such as superfluid helium and atomic Bose-Einstein Condensates, but it has always been assumed that vortices in light are governed by the optical mode in which they propagate.  However, the investigators recently observed emerging quantum fluid behavior and interactions between densely-packed vortices in random light waves (i.e. laser speckle).  The very idea that light is a quantum fluid has fascinating foundational implications, which will be probed by exploiting the unprecedented quantum state accessibility of these topological fluids of light (TFL).  Their investigation is a tightly integrated program of computational simulation and experimental measurement to discover and exploit two-body, few body, and condensed matter dynamics of vortices.  In particular, the team seeks to characterize the interaction physics of vortices in a quantum fluid, to diagram the emergent phases of TFL, and to produce vortex structures that exhibit non-abelian anyon behavior needed for topological quantum computing.  Topological fluids of light provide exciting new opportunities for exploring and exploiting phenomena that are either difficult to capture or as yet have no counterpart in macroscopic quantum states, a new frontier in topological physics with the potential to enable room-temperature quantum science and computation.

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