The IQOQI Dissertation Prize 2014 will be awarded to theoretical physicist Alexander Glätzle. It is the second time that this prize, valued at 1,000 Euro, is awarded. It honors scientifically outstanding accomplishments in the field of quantum physics. The award ceremony will take place in 2015.

The Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) rewards promising junior researchers for outstanding scientific accomplishments in the field of quantum physics. Last year the IQOQI introduced the Dissertation Prize to further motivate junior researchers. It is awarded to graduates of a PhD program undertaken at the University of Innsbruck for scientifically outstanding achievements in the field of quantum physics. Theoretical physicist Alexander Glätzle, member of Peter Zoller’s research team, is the third awardee after the prize was awarded to two experimental physicists Philipp Schindler and Simon Stellmer last year. He is honored for his suggestions for quantum simulations with Rydberg atoms. “The PhD students in our research groups do first-rate work and are essential pillars for our research success,” says Rainer Blatt, Managing Director of the IQOQI. With this prize, we would like to honor remarkable accomplishments and, at the same time, further motivate our students.”/p>

Sisyphus in action

Alexander Glätzle works with Rydberg atoms, whose outer electron is in a highly excited state. These atoms provide a promising platform for quantum information processing and exploring strongly correlated quantum systems. In the first part of his thesis, Alexander Glätzle proposes a theoretical scheme to engineer ‘Sisyphus’ potentials between Rydberg atoms and ground state polar molecules to achieve direct cooling of generic polar molecules. The generated cold molecules may then be used to study chemical reactions, carry out precision measurements and investigate and simulate many-body quantum states. “Every time a molecule in our cooling scheme collides with a Rydberg atom it moves up a mountain – analogous to the Greek mythology. Close to the highest point, a spontaneously emitted photon carries away (kinetic) energy and the molecule falls into a hole in the mountain, similar to Sisyphus in the Greek mythology,” explains Glätzle.

Realizing quantum spin ice

The second part of the thesis discusses the implementation of quantum simulators of quantum spin ice using Rydberg atoms and ions. Ice plays an important role in quantum mechanics, particularly in the context of spin systems with competing interactions, also known as quantum frustrated systems. These spin ice systems display many types of surprising collective quantum behavior, which also play an important role in the physics of the subatomic world, particularly quantum electromagnetism. While synthetic classical ice dynamics has already been demonstrated in different solid-state platforms, realizing quantum spin ice has remained elusive. To overcome the problems, Glätzle has proposed and developed a Rydberg atomic toolbox, building on recent experimental advances. “The main idea is to exploit the strong angular dependence of van der Waals interactions between high angular momentum Rydberg states together with the possibility of designing step-like potentials,” explains Glätzle. “This would allow us to implement Abelian gauge theories in a series of geometries, which could be simulated within state-of-the-art atomic experiments.”


Alexander Glätzle was born in Ehenbichl, the Tyrol, in 1984. He qualified for the national finals of the Olympics in Physics twice when he was still in high school. This experience led him to the decision to study physics. In 2009 he graduated summa cum laude as member of Peter Zoller’s research team at the University of Innsbruck. He then started a doctorate and, after research visits at Harvard, Stanford and the University of Maryland, USA, graduated in September 2014.