Paul Hamilton, a UCLA assistant professor of physics and astronomy, has been selected for a prestigious Young Faculty Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, awarded to “rising research stars” in a broad range of scientific research areas.

Hamilton’s research focuses on matter wave interferometry, which can be used as a precise toolbox for atomic physicists, with possible applications ranging from GPS-free navigation to detection of gravitational waves. His research group is exploring a new direction for the field of atomic, molecular and optical physics, using atom interferometry and laser-cooled atoms to probe the mysterious properties of dark matter and dark energy.  In one study, published in the journal Science in 2015, Hamilton and his colleagues reproduced the low-density conditions of space to precisely measure a force that dark energy produces.

For the DARPA award, Hamilton’s research group will be focusing on more practical matters. The initial project, in collaboration with his UCLA faculty colleague, Wes Campbell, will use techniques developed for quantum computation to make a rotation sensor using a single ion. Using similar techniques may enable new atom interferometry devices that operate at room temperature, eliminating the need for laser cooling.

The chief aim of atomic, molecular and optical physics is to manipulate and control matter at the quantum level to enable a wide variety of new technologies and fundamental physics measurements. Many technologies, including lasers and GPS, have their roots in AMO physics.