The conference I’m at this week is the annual meeting of the Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics of the American Physical Society (which this year is joint with the Canadian version, the Division of Atomic and Molecular Physics and Photon Interactions, or “DAMPΦ.” The Greek letter is a recent addition– as recently as 2001, they were just DAMP.). As the name suggests, this is a meeting covering a wide range of topics, and in some ways is like two or three meetings running in parallel in the same space.

You can see the different threads very clearly if you look at the different sessions in the program. Take, for example, the sessions running Monday morning at 10:30 am (There’s an 8am prize session, which is joint for everybody, so it doesn’t shed much light…):

Session B1 Atomic and Molecular Physics in Early Universe
Chair: Daniel Savin, Columbia University Room: Imperial East

Invited Speakers:  Naoki Yoshida,  Holger Kreckel,  Xavier Urbain,  Jonathan Pritchard 

Session B2 Ultracold Molecules
Chair: Phil Gould, University of Connecticut Room: Imperial Center

Session B3 Alkaline-Earth Quantum Fluids and Quantum Computing
Chair: Charles Clark, National Institute of Standards and Technology Room: Imperial West

Invited Speakers:  T.C. Killian,  Ana Maria Rey,  Yoshiro Takahashi,  Iris Reichenbach 

Session B4 Focus Session: Strong Field Alignment and Orientation
Chair: Oliver Gessner, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Room: Regency Ballroom

Invited Speakers:  P. Bucksbaum,  Maxim Artamonov 

Session B5 Photoionization
Chair: William McCurdy, University of California, Davis Room: Arboretum I-III

Session B6 Quantum Information and Quantum Computing
Chair: Dietrich Leibfried, National Institute of Standards and Technology Room: Arboretum IV-V

That’s a wide range of stuff, and it’s worth breaking them down one at a time:

Session B1 Atomic and Molecular Physics in Early Universe
Chair: Daniel Savin, Columbia University Room: Imperial East

Invited Speakers:  Naoki Yoshida,  Holger Kreckel,  Xavier Urbain,  Jonathan Pritchard 

This is an example of something that seems more common in recent years, namely a session about how AMO physics connects to other areas, and finds applications in other fields. These are all invited talks (30 minutes of talk, 6 for questions), and mostly deal with stuff on the chemistry side of things, with connections to astrophysics and cosmology.

Session B2 Ultracold Molecules
Chair: Phil Gould, University of Connecticut Room: Imperial Center

This is a session of ten contributed talks (10 minutes talk, 2 for questions) on an area that has really only existed for maybe 20 years, namely the study of interatomic interactions in systems where the atoms are moving really, really slowly– cm/s velocities, or even lower. This is the area where I did my thesis research, so I have some affection for it, but I haven’t been following it closely enough to get much out of these talks.

Session B3 Alkaline-Earth Quantum Fluids and Quantum Computing
Chair: Charles Clark, National Institute of Standards and Technology Room: Imperial West

Invited Speakers:  T.C. Killian,  Ana Maria Rey,  Yoshiro Takahashi,  Iris Reichenbach 

This is a more recent field yet, namely Bose-Einstein Condensation, which was first experimentally realized 15 years ago, in 1995. These are invited talks, again, with a focus on BEC’s made from alkaline earth atoms. The original BEC experiments used alkali metals, but recently there have been a bunch of experiments using the second column of the periodic table.

Session B4 Focus Session: Strong Field Alignment and Orientation
Chair: Oliver Gessner, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Room: Regency Ballroom

Invited Speakers:  P. Bucksbaum,  Maxim Artamonov 

“Focus Session” means a mix of invited and contributed talks (2 invited, 5 contributed, in this case), and the basic topic here is experiments done with ultra-fast lasers. These can generate extremely high electric fields for very, very short times– attoseconds– which allows for some interesting studies of the dynamics of atoms and molecules subjected to extreme conditions. Typical experiments involve either clever ways to produce X-ray pulses, or basically whacking the electrons of an atom or molecule really hard, and looking at how they move around afterwards. This is another relatively recent field, that has really taken off as laser technology has become cheaper and more reliable.

Session B5 Photoionization
Chair: William McCurdy, University of California, Davis Room: Arboretum I-III

This is old school molecular physics, looking at what happens when you hit molecules with intense beams of light. The goal is basically to map out the allowed energy states of various types of molecules. I know very little about this area of AMO physics, and don’t tend to go to these sessions.

Session B6 Quantum Information and Quantum Computing
Chair: Dietrich Leibfried, National Institute of Standards and Technology Room: Arboretum IV-V

Another relatively recent field, but a perennial hot topic. Most of the quantum information experiments done to date have used AMO systems to demonstrate the effects of interest (though condensed matter realizations are becoming more common), so there’s always lots of quantum information stuff at DAMOP meetings.

Those different types of sessions repeat over and over again through the course of the meeting. Taking a look at Wednesday afternoon, we have:

Session C1 DAMOP Thesis Prize Session
Chair: Elizabeth McCormack, Bryn Mawr College Room: Imperial East

Invited Speakers:  K.K. Ni,  Christian Schunck,  S. Olmschenk,  Qi Zhou 

Session C2 Focus Session: Molecular Spectroscopy
Chair: Ben McCall, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign Room: Imperial Center

Invited Speakers:  Kenneth Brown,  Jennifer Ogilvie 

Session C3 Focus Session: Strong Field Coherent Control
Chair: George Gibson, University of Connecticut Room: Imperial West

Invited Speakers:  Robert Jones,  Herschel Rabitz 

Session C4 Disorder and Optical Lattices
Chair: Jason Ho, The Ohio State University Room: Regency Ballroom

Session C5 Rydberg Atoms and Cold Plasmas
Chair: Thomas Gallagher, University of Virginia Room: Arboretum I-III

Session C6 Methods of Ultracold Atoms

Chair: David Hall, Amherst College Room: Arboretum IV-V

In order, the thesis prize is a general interest session (though it’s dominated by cold atom/ BEC stuff this year), Molecular Spectroscopy is old-school stuff, Coherent Control is ultrafast lasers, and the last three all involve cold atoms in one form or another (though there have been a lot of cool things done with Rydberg atoms at higher temperatures, most of the recent stuff starts with laser-cooled atoms, because everything is cleaner that way).

Pretty much every time block will have at least one session from each of these major groups: cold atoms, BEC/ quantum degenerate systems, ultrafast lasers, old-school spectroscopy, quantum information. Other common session types not found on Wednesday involve precision measurements, collisions at moderate energies (milli-Kelvin temperatures on up), and non-linear interactions between light and atoms (which is another track that frequently uses cold atoms as a starting point). These tracks are almost like completely separate programs– some people at the meeting will only go to fast-laser talks, or cold-atom talks. There’s a whole community of old-school molecular physics people who I recognize when I see them, but have never really met, simply because we don’t go to the same sort of talks, despite attending the same meeting every year.

When I was a student, I tended to go to talks only in the cold-atom areas I was working in, because that was stuff I had to keep on top of. These days, I try to take in a wider range of stuff, with invited talks a priority. It’s more interesting in a lot of ways, but it does make it awfully hard to decide which of the several parallel meetings I want to attend at any given time.