2014 Thomson medal and prize

Professor Charles S Adams, Durham University. For his insightful and imaginative experiments which have pioneered the field of Rydberg quantum optics, and the understanding of light-matter interactions in systems with strong dipole-dipole interactions.

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Over the last decade, Charles Adams has led the experimental study of light-matter interactions within strongly interacting atomic vapours, making use of both highly excited atomic states (Rydberg atoms), and strong laser-induced dipole-dipole interactions. This previously almost unexplored regime is of fundamental interest, and has great potential for applications in the emerging field of quantum technologies, for example as single-photon sources and in electrometry. Using a relatively simple system, fundamental questions relating to open quantum systems, the quantum–classical boundary, phase transitions and the appearance of mean-field physics have been addressed.

In particular, Adams has pioneered the field of Rydberg quantum optics, initiating a paradigm shift in nonlinear optics by enabling strong photon-photon interactions, highlights being the first experimental demonstration of storage and processing of optical photons, and the first experimental demonstration of intrinsic optical bi-stability and an optically driven non-equilibrium phase transition in a dilute atomic gas. There are now more than 25 groups worldwide actively pursuing this topic.

He has also pioneered the understanding of light-matter interactions in systems with strong dipole-dipole interactions, highlights being the first measurement of the cooperative Lamb shift, a fundamental effect predicted 40 years previously, and the experimental demonstration of the largest refractive index observed in a gas, together with the largest superluminal group index in any medium.

Adams has established an outstanding centre for atomic physics, at Durham University widely regarded for the rigour, imagination and responsiveness of its research, and is now the first Director of the Joint Quantum Centre (JQC) Durham–Newcastle.