Undergraduate Honors Thesis Projects

Date of Award

Spring 3-29-2017

Document Type

Honors Paper

Degree Name





Aaron Reinhard, Ph.D.

First Committee Member

Aaron Reinhard, Ph.D.

Second Committee Member

Nathaniel Tagg, Ph.D.

Third Committee Member

Meredith Frey, Ph.D.


Rydberg atoms, laser cooling and trapping, magneto-optical trap, absorption imaging

Subject Categories

Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics


Rydberg atoms are those which have their valence electron excited to high principal quantum number n. Atoms in the Rydberg state are the research focus of the experiment from which this paper derives. Rydberg atoms are fragile, and thermal collisions are enough to ionize and destroy the Rydberg state. A magneto-optical trap (MOT) serves the purpose of "ultra-cooling" atoms to temperatures around 140 micro-Kelvin and dramatically reduces the impact of thermal collisions. This paper details the theory and equipment necessary to realize a MOT of rubidium-85. It will then discuss the characterization of the MOT we implemented by a technique called low intensity absorption imaging. The result of the measurements by the absorption imaging gave an atom count of N=8.87 +/- (0.45)stat + (0.14)sys X 105 atoms and a peak atomic density of n0=1.57 +/- (0.14)stat + (0.02)sys X 1011 cm-3, where "stat" and "sys" denote statistical and systematic uncertainties. The MOT is of sufficient size and density to continue with the long term goals of the experiment [1][2].