Cold atoms and molecules

Research into theoretical and experimental methods for cooling atomic and molecular species to sub-millikelvin temperatures and the science applications of these systems (e.g. studies of properties and applications of Bose-Einstein condensates and Fermi gases). Experimental tunability, control and unrivalled cleanliness make these systems ideal emulators for many-body phenomena like superfluidity and quantum magnetism, and provide a powerful resource for metrology and quantum information processing. There is strong crossover with the Quantum Optics and Information and the Quantum Devices, Components and Systems research areas.

Building on the community-focused strategy undertaken through the last Delivery Plan, we will sustain the UK's world-leading activities in this area by continuing to encourage research within key existing, high-quality research groups.

Within these research groups, we will encourage delivery of blue-skies science and underpinning contributions to novel quantum technologies. Capital and capacity from the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme (UKNQTP), the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) should be leveraged and utilised within this framework. Over the Delivery Plan:

  • Critical-mass activities should be concentrated in multidisciplinary projects and collaborations that utilise emergent applications at the interface with other disciplines or maintain specific unique UK capabilities
  • Contributions to quantum simulation, chemistry, technology, sensing and metrology are expected
  • Outcome-focused research (particularly research which can underpin and deliver against EPSRC's Outcomes or deliver technology transfer) will be encouraged, through engagement and alignment between existing and future investments in the UKNQT, innovation partners and other critical-mass activities

By the end of the Delivery Plan period, we aim to have supported both early-career and established-career researchers through existing research centres, networked activities and collaboration between key research groups. These should drive research in related areas of the EPSRC portfolio, contribute to the EPSRC Outcomes framework and develop applications. We will monitor training needs to ensure support is maintained to safeguard current research activities.


The UK has a strong Cold Atoms and Molecules portfolio with a number of groups considered internationally leading; they represent unique capabilities in cold molecules, controlled quantum dynamics, spectroscopy, atomic traps, Rydberg physics and technological applications. In line with previous EPSRC strategy, the breadth of experimental research has contracted over the last Delivery Plan, leaving a smaller number of high-quality, core-capability research groups. (Evidence source 1)

Recognised as a key underpinning research area for quantum technologies, this area has seen heavy international investment. (Evidence source 2,3) Industry engagement is extant and specific but low-intensity; key partners are typically in the metrology and defence sectors. The area is relevant to EPSRC Outcomes as a key enabler of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, time measurement, gravity sensors and analytical science, and in the long term it will have tangential outputs through healthcare technologies based on atomic sensing and imaging. (Evidence source 4,5)

Experimental groups are infrastructure-heavy and set-ups must be maintained over the course of an experimental run, making equipment-sharing or a facilities model difficult. Equipment is upgraded incrementally to realise new generations of experiments and to incorporate new technology and techniques. Theory work can require High Performance Computing (HPC) access and specialist software for which the Collaborative Computational Project Q (CCPQ) is a key provider. Support from the UKNQT has provided additional capital focused on technology realisation, miniaturisation and hybrid quantum systems. (Evidence source 6)

The landscape has shaped itself around the capital equipment, establishing specific institutional research centres led by field-leading established-career academics, supporting early-career academics and hosting small cohorts of associated PhDs. Theoretical groups are often hosted by, or associated with, these centres, driving strong intradisciplinary collaboration and links between groups. There is significant research crossover potential, most notably with Quantum Optics and Information, Quantum Devices, Components and Systems Light-Matter Interaction and Condensed Matter - Electronic Structure, and specific activities crossover with chemistry, materials simulation, analytical science and far-from-equilibrium physics.

This research area will be particularly relevant to the following Ambitions across Productive, Connected, Resilient and Healthy Nation Outcomes:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

Cold Atom and Molecules research underpins and directly contributes to delivery of improved and novel quantum technology platforms.

C4: Ensure a safe and trusted cyber society

Quantum simulation with cold atoms or molecules has potential to underpin secure communications and quantum annealing, and provide time standards for more trusted financial transactions.

R3: Develop better solutions to acute threats: cyber, defence, financial and health

Improved GPS technology, guidance systems, and gravitational and quantum-enhanced sensors based on cold atoms are all currently in development for defence applications.

R4: Manage resources efficiently and sustainably

Cold-atom gravitational sensors for subterranean imaging promise to revolutionise resource prospection and minimise infrastructure repair.

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

Molecular probes/detectors with applications in gas-phase chemical detection and cold-atom-based magnetic imaging have significant healthcare applications.

EPSRC, Cold Atoms and Molecules Monitoring Portfolio Evolution Report, (2015).

  1. European Commission, Quantum Technologies: Implications for European Policy (PDF), (2016).
  2. European Commission, Quantum Technologies: Opportunities for European Industry, (2015).
  3. National Physical laboratory, Metrology for the 2020s (PDF), (2013).
  4. National Physical Laboratory, Confidence in the UK 2016-2021: A National Approach to Measurement, Preparing for the 2020s (PDF), (2015).
  5. UKNQT, National Strategy for Quantum Technologies: A New Era for the UK, (2015).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC support by research area in Cold atoms and molecules (GoW)
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Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Abhinav Sharma
Organisation: EPSRC