John E. Thomas

John E. Thomas

Fritz London Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Physics

Professor Emeritus of Physics

Office Location: 
185 Physics Bldg, Durham, NC 27708
Front Office Address: 
Box 90305, Durham, NC 27708-0305
(919) 660-2508


Professor John E. Thomas is exploring the physics of an optically trapped degenerate Fermi gas. The group pioneered the development of ultrastable all-optical traps for neutral atoms in 1999, achieving trap lifetimes of more than 400 seconds, comparable to the best magnetic traps. The group has developed methods for direct evaporative cooling of neutral atoms in optical traps, enabling the first all-optical production of a degenerate Fermi gas in 2001. The trapped gas comprises a degenerate 50-50 mixture of spin-up and spin-down fermionic lithium-6 atoms, which exhibits a collisional (Feshbach) resonance in a bias magnetic field. In 2002, the Duke group was the first to produce and study a strongly interacting degenerate Fermi gas. This system exhibits universal behavior and is a paradigm for testing nonperturbative many-body calculational methods in disciplines from nuclear matter to high temperature superconductors. In 2004, the Duke group was the first to observe evidence for high temperature superfluid hydrodynamics in a strongly interacting Fermi gas. Ongoing experiments include studies of the thermodynamics and transport properties of this unique quantum system.

Education & Training

  • Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1979

Selected Grants

Quantum Superposition State Scattering awarded by National Science Foundation (Principal Investigator). 1987 to 1990

Nonlinear Optics in Dense Frequency Narrow Supersonic Beams awarded by Air Force Office of Scientific Research (Principal Investigator). 1988 to 1990


Lu, Z. H., et al. “Observation of Phase-dependent Temporal Correlations in Resonance Fluorescence.” Bull. Am. Phys. Soc., vol. 44, 1999.

Gehm, M. E., et al. “Noise induced Population Loss in Atom Traps.” Bull. Am. Phys. Soc., vol. 44, 1999.

Wax, A., et al. “Characterizing the coherence of broadband sources using optical phase space contours.” J. Biomed. Opt., vol. 4, 1999, pp. 1–8.

O’hara, K. M., et al. “Ultrastable CO2laser trapping of lithium fermions.” Physical Review Letters, vol. 82, no. 21, Jan. 1999, pp. 4204–07. Scopus, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.82.4204. Full Text

Bali, S., et al. “Quantum-diffractive background gas collisions in atom-trap heating and loss.” Physical Review a  Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics, vol. 60, no. 1, Jan. 1999, pp. R29–32. Scopus, doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.60.R29. Full Text

Lu, Z. H., et al. “Observation of squeezing in the phase-dependent fluorescence spectra of two-level atoms.” Physical Review Letters, vol. 81, no. 17, Oct. 1998, pp. 3635–38. Scopus, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.81.3635. Full Text

Wax, A., and J. E. Thomas. “Measurement of smoothed Wigner phase-space distributions for small-angle scattering in a turbid medium.Journal of the Optical Society of America. A, Optics, Image Science, and Vision, vol. 15, no. 7, July 1998, pp. 1896–908. Epmc, doi:10.1364/josaa.15.001896. Full Text

Zhao, H. Z., et al. “Precision measurement of phase-dependent resonance fluorescence spectra.” Physical Review a  Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics, vol. 57, no. 2, Jan. 1998, pp. 1427–47. Scopus, doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.57.1427. Full Text

Gehm, M. E., et al. “Dynamics of noise-induced heating in atom traps.” Physical Review a  Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics, vol. 58, no. 5, Jan. 1998, pp. 3914–21. Scopus, doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.58.3914. Full Text

Lu, Z. H., et al. “Observation of Squeezing in Free Space Phase-Dependent Resonance Fluorescence.” Bull. Am. Phys. Soc., vol. 43, 1998.