Heating Up Quantum Science Education With Laser Cooling
A series of interactive workshops give educators tips and tools to cover quantum science in their classrooms.
Ellen Neff (Columbia News)
October 12, 2021
If you imagine a laser, you might think of beams of light popping balloons or slicing through a metal slab like butter. Lasers can indeed heat things up, but they can also cool things down. These days, physicists use laser cooling to understand the fundamentals of quantum physics, with implications for building things like super-precise atomic clocks and super-fast quantum computers.
The Will Lab at Columbia University investigates quantum systems of ultracold atoms and molecules, focuses on fundamental questions in the field and contributes to the development of modern quantum technologies. Under the leadership of Sebastian Will, the lab developed a partnership with nonprofit STEMteachersNYC entitled "Laser Cooling: Quantum Physics Applications for High School Students" in an effort to give high school teachers the tools to share quantum physics with their students.
"It's providing teachers with simple concepts that allow them to make a connection to modern quantum technology,” Will said. In collaboration with Fernand Brunschwig at STEMteachersNYC, Will and his graduate students distill their work in experimental physics to a few simple ideas that the teachers attending the workshops can understand. The training has a multiplier effect for reaching new audiences: if 50 teachers who attend a workshop go on to teach these concepts to 30 students at a time, that’s now 1,500 students with new quantum knowledge, Will said.