Université de Strasbourg

Shannon Whitlock


Institute of Physics and Chemistry of Materials Strasbourg (IPCMS) Institute of Supramolecular Science and Engineering (ISIS), University of Strasbourg

Shannon Whitlock, USIAS Fellow 2017Shannon Whitlock studied physics at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia. He earned his Ph.D. in 2007 on the topic of Bose-Einstein condensation of ultracold atoms using “atom chips”. Due to the close proximity of the atoms to the chip surface, atom chips hold great promise for future applications of cold atoms as quantum sensors, hybrid quantum devices and as quantum registers for quantum information processing. He further pursued these applications as a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow at the Van der Waals-Zeeman Institute at the University of Amsterdam. In 2010, he moved to the Ruprecht-Karls Universität d’Heidelberg in Germany where he started his own research group and advanced quantum physics laboratory thanks to a prestigious Emmy Noether grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG). In 2016 he was appointed as professor of experimental quantum physics at the University of Strasbourg where he was awarded a “Chaire attractivité recherche” prize as part of the research chair programme of the Initiative d'Excellence (IdEx) at the University of Strasbourg.

Shannon Whitlock's expertise concerns the experimental manipulation of atoms prepared at nearly absolute zero temperature using laser cooling and trapping. A unifying research theme concerns the understanding and exploitation of complex quantum effects which arise when the interactions among the atoms are manipulated. These systems offer an ideal testing-ground to study the emergence of macroscopic quantum phenomena such as magnetism, superconductivity, and superfluidity as well as non-equilibrium energy, charge and spin transport processes, similar to those occurring in solids and molecular systems.

Project - Enhancing quantum transport by correlated disorder

September 2017 - September 2019

A key step in photosynthesis involves the conversion of light into electronic excitations which are transported through a complex arrangement of molecules towards a reaction center, in some cases with almost 100% efficiency. This remarkable feat of nature is still not well understood. But there is some evidence that nature may have learnt how to harnesses quantum-mechanical effects, which would allow energy to be transported in a coherent wave-like fashion rather than by a series of random hops between molecules.

It is far from clear how these fragile quantum effects can survive in the warm, wet and noisy environment of the molecules. In this project we will assemble synthetic light-harvesting antennas made of atoms held by lasers at nearly absolute zero temperature and in complete isolation from their environment. By exciting these atoms to highly-excited states, called Rydberg states, we will mimic the processes responsible for transporting energy in photosynthesis, but on completely different length and time scales. Inspired by nature, we will use evolutionary algorithms to adapt the atomic configurations and precisely controlled noise, in particular spatially and temporally correlated disorder, to achieve the most efficient and robust transport. By finding the ingredients responsible for efficient quantum transport, especially in the presence of noise and decoherence, we aim to make breakthroughs in understanding how quantum effects arise in non-equilibrium physics, chemistry and biology, and ultimately inspire the next generation of efficient optoelectronic and photovoltaic technologies.



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