Cheng Chin receives ’21–’22 Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award

January 7, 2022

Cheng Chin
Cheng Chin

Professor Cheng Chin has received the ’21–’22 Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award, a Divisional honor that provides $100,000 for intellectually exciting and innovative research ventures that enable new research directions.

Chin joined the University of Chicago in 2005 and has been a full professor in the Department of Physics, the Enrico Fermi Institute, and the James Franck Institute since 2012. He is a pioneer in using ultracold atoms to study the quantum phenomena that underlie the behavior of other particles in the universe.

“I am very excited about this generous support from the PSD, and especially from Stuart Rice,” he said. “The fund will enable a brand new research line into molecular quantum matter, on which my students and I are very excited to begin.”

Chin's research team explores molecules and their reactions at the extremely low temperatures of 10 billionth of a degree above absolute zero. Molecules at such temperatures condense into a single quantum state with new forms of matter and reactions yet unknown to the molecular physics community. Their proposed experimental research will pursue the emergence of novel molecular quantum matter and quantum reactions.

The first research goal, Chin said, is to characterize these ultracold molecules and investigate their fundamental properties. They are predicted to form novel phases of chemical matter unlike their higher temperature counterparts.

Another goal is to study the conjectured regime of "quantum super chemistry." Similar to superconductors where electrons form super-current that flows without resistance, these Bose condensed molecules can react and interact without friction and energy cost. Chin proposes to study some of the fundamental chemical processes: composition, decomposition, replacement, and dissociation in the quantum super chemistry regime.

“The great hope is that these studies will reveal new guiding principles and exciting prospects to control reaction pathways,” he said. Novel applications might include inducing chemical reactions without energy dissipation, as in superconducting current; stimulated production of molecules, as in laser operation; and quantum information processing with molecular qubits.

Chin said the award will be used to upgrade the cold atom and molecule experiment to enhance the capability to manipulate and image molecules. Funds will be used to acquire experimental equipment for the proposed research as well as to attract students in physics and chemistry to perform the experiments.

The proposed research builds on work that has shaped and defined atomic, molecular, and optical physics. In 2011, Chin was recognized as the first physicist to observe the Efimov molecules at the ultracold temperature. More recently, in 2019, he designed an experiment that demonstrated a novel way to simulate physics in curved spacetimes, observing emissions that offer a view into the quantum origin of Unruh radiation. Last year, the discovery that multiple molecules can be brought at once into a single quantum state came from Chin lab—accomplishing one of the most important goals in quantum physics.

The Marian and Stuart Rice Research Award was established by the family of Stuart Alan Rice, the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Chemistry and former chairman of the Department of Chemistry and dean of the Physical Sciences (1981-1995). It is awarded annually to promote new directions of research in the physical and mathematical sciences at the University of Chicago.

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