Presently, the research fields of the laboratory, remain centred on atomic physics, molecular physics, cluster physics, and optics, emphasizing at the same time the growing importance of the interfaces with plasma physics, astrophysics, condensed matter physics, nuclear physics, chemistry, biology, and medicine, up to the industrial applications. The laser is the tool common to all the experiments. Atoms and molecules remain the main objects of study. They act not only as tests of fundamental theories, but they are more and more often used as probes of ultimate reduced dimension for the exploration of complex systems. Indeed, the Laboratoire Aimé Cotton is a rather unique French physics landscape, where one can conceive and carry out original experiments to obtain insight into the atom (or the ion), either isolated or involved in more complex systems such as molecules, clusters, carbon nanotubes; each object of the study is considered both experimentally and theoretically.
These atoms may be trapped, nearly motionless, at very low temperature under the action of crossed laser beams. They can interact more or less strongly with close or distant neighbours, and even become associated in pairs to form an ultracold gas of molecules - the first creation and identification of such an ultracold molecular gas was a great success of the laboratory. Laser manipulation of atoms allows us to conceive elements of “atom optics” as mirrors or beam splitters. Free clusters are probed in flight, with laser beams, to evaluate their stability and dynamics. When they are soft-landed on surfaces, they constitute the building blocks for new materials with properties to be discovered. The development of nanospectroscopic techniques allows us to control chemical processes at the scale of single molecules and to explore carbon nanotubes filled with fullerene, down to the scale of a single nanotube. Coherent optics and high resolution spectroscopy lead to applications such as spectral analysis of radiofrequency signals with instantaneous very broadband spectral frequency... We can also cite the efforts made by the laboratory to solve societal needs such as the development of a “laser cane” for blind persons.
With the more and more precise control of internal and external degrees of freedom of the physical objects studied, fascinating new fields can now be explored such as nanosciences, quantum mesoscopic systems, quantum gases or quantum information, domains where the laboratory is already present.
The history of the Laboratoire Aimé Cotton is quite old. In fact, the laboratory was founded in Bellevue in 1929 by the French physicist Aimé Cotton, famous for his work on magnetism and magneto-optics. As a pioneer in the development of large equipments, he particularly devoted himself to the installation of the “Grand Electroaimant de l’Académie des Sciences”, a large electromagnet around which the laboratory developed. In 1951, Pierre Jacquinot became the director of the (...)