Much of the current research in atomic physics focuses on the use of extremely well-controlled electromagnetic fields to coherently manipulate the internal and external degrees of freedom of atoms. We use lasers to cool and trap atoms, to spin molecules in order to align their axes along a particular direction in the laboratory, and to drive electrons within atoms and molecules in particular directions at specific times. These optical techniques serve as tools which allow us to view very fast processes within atoms and molecules and to perform experiments exploring controlled interactions between atoms and between electrons within atoms. Some of our experiments exploit the extremely slow motion and extreme electric-field sensitivity of electrons in highly excited Rydberg atoms. Others utilize very intense, extremely brief, pulsed laser fields which can rip electrons from their parent ions and then drive them back and forth as probes of the atomic or molecular potential.
Current investigations include: the control and observation of time-dependent
electron-electron interactions within atoms; the manipulation and exploration of dipole-dipole and few-body interactions in cold Rydberg gases; laser induced, field-free orientation of molecules; controlled dissociation and ionization of molecules in strong asymmetric laser fields; attosecond electron wavepackets as probes of molecular potentials; and high-harmonic generation from molecules. This work is supported by the NSF and the DOE.