The University has a new physics center and a new partnership with the University of Texas at Austin, thanks to a $15 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The new center, officially named FOCUS Frontiers in Optical Coherent and Ultrafast Science opened Aug. 1 this year. It has three locations two in Ann Arbor and one in Austin. It is not a part of the Life Sciences Initiative.

“The center has been funded for its initial five-year period and then will be renewed, we hope,” said Philip Bucksbaum, the center”s director and a University of Michigan physics professor. “What we”re starting is a number of new modalities for science centers. In many ways, this is an experiment for the NSF.”

Bucksbaum said that the center”s research focuses on three specific areas: quantum computing, coherent control of chemistry and very high intensity laser fields.

The University has such sophisticated laser technology that researchers can have lasers to do tasks that formerly weren”t possible such as direct laser acceleration of particles to speeds close to the speed of light, he said.

“It”s a little bit expensive to make very high intensity laser fields,”

Bucksbaum said, “We”re doing that and they”ll be used by faculty at U of M and U of T.”

Bucksbaum added that a lot of the work by the Texas researchers will be done here.

Another aspect that has come out of the two schools” partnership is a joint course on high intensity laser matter interactions. Texas physics prof. Todd Ditmire teaches the course from Austin using webcasting.

“We thought that simultaneous teaching of students at both institutions would help tie the two institutions together,” Ditmire said.

About 15 students are enrolled in the graduate-level class at each campus and some work at the FOCUS center.

“One of the important things is educational outreach. One of the major things we do is research with graduate students and one of the vital steps in training them is doing cutting edge research,” Ditmire added.

In addition to its three specific research frontiers, the center runs an annual seed funding competition to provide funding for new kinds of advanced projects.

“That”s something that research centers don”t normally do,” said Bucksbaum.

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