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Rice lauded for one of year's top breakthroughs
'Quantum simulator' earns runner-up honors from Science magazine


Rice University's high-profile efforts to create a quantum simulator were featured this week in Science magazine's coveted "Breakthrough of the Year" coverage.


Above: Randy Hulet, third from right, and his team aim to simulate the sometimes vexing behavior of superconductors.

Below: Rice University graduate student Yean-an Liao created a precise analog of a one-dimensional superconducting wire. 

A September study  in the journal Nature by Rice physicist Randy Hulet, several Rice colleagues and theoretical collaborators from Cornell University was among those singled out in Science's summary of the most significant scientific breakthroughs of 2010.

Hulet's team used lithium atoms cooled to within a few billionths of a degree of absolute zero to create a precise analog of a one-dimensional superconducting wire.

The research is part of a three-year, $5-million effort aimed at using grids of intersecting laser beams and supercooloed atoms to simulate the sometimes vexing behavior of superconductors and other materials.

Describing the significance of quantum-simulator progress in 2010, Science wrote that while physicists usually invent theoretical models to explain experiments, quantum simulators can "let the experiment solve the theoretical problem."

That could prove particularly useful for the study of high-temperature superconductors, materials that have defied theoretical description for more than three decades.

Science lauded Hulet, Rice's Fayez Sarofim Professor of Physics and Astronomy, and other teams that showed in 2010 that quantum simulators could reproduce known results -- the first step toward the larger goal of exploring the unknown.

The Nature study -- "Spin-imbalance in a one-dimensional Fermi gas," by Y. Liao et al., Nature 467, 567 (2010) -- is available here.

Hulet's research is funded by the Army Research Office under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Optical Lattice Emulator.

Prof. Hulet's research webpage can be found here.