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Charlie Doret: Learning Something from Measuring Nothing: Probing the Deepest Puzzles of the Universe, One Atom at a Time

Thu, April 6th, 2023
4:15 pm
- 5:30 pm

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Through the ages scientists and philosophers have grappled with deep questions about the fundamental nature of the universe.  How did we come to be here?  What surrounds us out there in the cosmos?  Though these mysteries remain unsolved, over the years science has made some progress towards answers.  We think that the universe is as we see it today because a tiny asymmetry in its early evolution – perhaps one part in a billion – left a bit of extra matter that did not annihilate into energy.  Furthermore, we recognize that much of what remains – about 85% – is actually `dark matter,’ so-called because we cannot directly detect it with telescopes.  Despite these advances, explanations for why the universe is this way, or what dark matter really is, continue to elude us.  Theories abound, but teasing out which (if any) might be correct is often a tricky proposition, out of the reach of even massive facilities like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.  Perhaps surprisingly, small tabletop-scale experiments with atoms and molecules offer a path forward, searching for subtle effects which may hide in the structure of ordinary matter.

Charlie Doret is an Associate Professor of Physics at Williams College where he teaches courses throughout the physics curriculum.  His research involves trapping and coherently controlling individual atomic ions using lasers and electromagnetic fields, enabling applications ranging from measurements of atomic structure that probe physics beyond the Standard Model to quantum simulation of thermodynamic phenomena.

This talk is presented as part of the spring 2023 Faculty Lecture Series. The series was founded in 1911 by Catherine Mariotti Pratt, the spouse of a faculty member who wanted to “relieve the tedium of long New England winters with an opportunity to hear Williams professors talk about issues that really mattered to them.” From these humble and lighthearted beginnings, the Faculty Lecture Series has grown to become an important forum for tenured professors to share their latest research with the larger intellectual community of the college.

The Faculty Lecture Series is organized by the faculty members of the Lecture Committee. The aim of the series is to present big ideas beyond disciplinary boundaries.  All lectures will begin at 4:15 p.m.  They are free and open to the public.

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