The Harvard Quantum Optics Center was created to foster research and education in the field of quantum optics, which straddles the traditional science/engineering boundary. This cross disciplinary nature is reflected in our scientific board, whose members are drawn from the school of engineering and the departments of physics and chemistry. It is my vision that a thriving community of researchers will form from the combination of world-class research groups in both FAS and SEAS, with a focus on the quantum interaction of light with matter. Although the development of technology and science has shared a deep relationship, it is often done in separate labs and with insufficient communication between the engineers and scientists. A goal of this Center is to support interdisciplinary cooperation, in the hopes that scientific advances will progress more quickly from the theoretical to real world applications.

From the earliest scientific inquiries, the nature of the interaction of light and matter has been a source of fascination. Early Greek and Islamic philosophers debated the speed of light, whether it was finite or infinite, and if the matter through which it passed affected the speed.  Even as the first practical experiments in vacuum began, later researchers posited an aether to serve as the medium that would allow energy to be transmitted from the sun to the earth. If the electromagnetic field stored energy in free space, must not there be something there, something mechanical, to hold that energy?

As we now know, based on the ideas of Einstein and historic experiments, the vacuum itself has the capacity to store energy as a field. Furthermore, one can change the mode structure of the vacuum using metal and dielectric surfaces. This creation of tailor-made vacuums for light has profound effects on light’s interaction with matter, dramatically elucidating the quantum nature of both light and matter. The HQOC seeks to further understand and manipulate such light-matter systems. We hope to foster the creation of new technologies based on creative ideas coming from across the intellectual spectrum, which includes quantum condensed matter systems, photonics crystals, nano-optics, quantum microscopes and hybrid quantum systems.

So, with this great history behind us, we hope to continue to discover new ideas, produce new devices and communicate these findings to the broader community. Perhaps, a hundred years from now, something created with the support of the HQOC will be an historical reference point. We will likely never know if this comes to pass, but we can, as the early philosophers did, “aim for the stars”.

-John Doyle
15 August 2011