COLLEGE STATION —
Affectionately called the “quantum cowboy,” Marlan Scully rides herd on experiments at the frontiers of physics, bringing to life knowledge to spur applications in optics, computing and quantum mechanics.
Talk to Scully about his “top gun” physicist status, and he responds with the kind of “aw-shucks modesty” typical of the Western hero. Pressed to talk about himself, all Scully wants to do is praise his research team.
“Here in the College of Science and Electrical Engineering Department at Texas A&M University, we’ve assembled a world-class quantum optics group,” said Scully, Distinguished Professor of Physics, holder of the Hershel E. Burgess Chair in Physics and a proud Texas cattleman. “We’ve been able to recruit the most wonderful people from all over the world – the United States, Germany, Russia, Pakistan, China – and in turn, our doctoral students join the faculties of top universities like Harvard and become lead industrial scientists at, for example, Intel.”
Scully is so beloved by his Texas A&M co-workers and colleagues at other institutions that, for his 60th birthday two years ago, they produced a 600-page book celebrating his most significant scientific achievements. The work is titled Ode to a Quantum Physicist: A Festschrift in Honor of Marlan O. Scully, edited by Wolfgang P. Schleich of the Abteilung fur Quantenphysik at the Universitate Ulm, Ulm, Germany; Herbert Walther of the Max-Planck-Institut fur Quantenoptik at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat, Munich, Germany; and Willis Lamb of the Optical Sciences Center at the University of Arizona.
“Here in College Station, we’re not only thinking about physics problems, we’re doing cutting- edge quantum engineering research,” Scully continues. “We look at problems that span the gamut of quantum physics and engineering, ranging from the age-old question of the duality in matter and light (waves vs. particles) and challenging the conventional interpretation of the uncertainty relation on the one hand to stopping light and designing the components for quantum computation on the other.”
As an example of his latest research, hot exhaust from internal combustion engines could power the lasers of the future, if the Texas physicist has anything to say about it.
In an article published in Physical Review Letters, Scully explains the theory of how a “quantum afterburner” could induce laser action in such waste gases.
“The process would involve the internal quantum states of the gases’ working molecules, along with the techniques of cavity quantum electrodynamics,” Scully said. “What goes in are normally useless waste gases, and what comes out is coherent laser light, which can be viewed as increased horsepower.”
Scully’s paper deals with the operation of the so-called “ideal heat engine,” using the Otto engine, a one-cylinder four-stroke heat engine developed in 1876. He performed mathematical simulations using this engine to demonstrate that quantum methods could theoretically increase horsepower, which could then be used to drive a laser.
This “thought experiment,” ala Einstein, involves an engine hooked to two combustion reservoirs. As hot gas expands in one reservoir, it lifts an attached weight, and heat is extracted at a constant volume by a heat exchanger. Two cavities, one for a laser and one for a maser (a laser which emits microwaves rather than light), are then added to the engine’s exhaust pipe, and energy is extracted from the exhaust gas molecules themselves by cycling gas from left to right, back to left through the laser-maser system.
The process is repeated, and, finally, the laser’s radiation focuses coherent – or useful – energy from the gas molecules, improving the engine’s overall efficiency by recycling waste heat and turning it into laser light.
“The maser drains entropy from the exhaust gases; this allows the laser to extract the remainder, turning it into a useful work,” Scully explained. “Normally, all the heat released in exhaust gases is just wasted. We are presently building such a laser/internal combustion engine. Where all this will lead is anybody’s guess; but, it’s great fun!”
Scully’s team’s most recent accomplishments cover the fields of quantum optics, quantum computation, teleportation and the slowing down of the speed of light and quantum thermodynamics. In addition to his rank of Distinguished Professor of Physics, he also holds joint appointments as a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and a distinguished research chair with the Texas Engineering Experiment Station. He also serves as director of the Center for Theoretical Physics and the Institute for Quantum Studies and is a member of the faculty of Germany’s Max Planck Institute.
Scully has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and to the Academia Europaea, an international association of scientists and scholars, based in London. The Academia Europaea promotes appreciation of European scholarship and research, makes recommendations to national governments and international agencies about science and scholarship in Europe and encourages interdisciplinary and international research in all areas of learning.
Scully joined the faculty at Texas A&M in 1992 as professor of physics. He earned his undergraduate degree in engineering physics at the University of Wyoming in 1962 and his master’s and doctoral degrees in physics at Yale University in 1963 and 1966.
“Nobel Prize winner Bill Phillips once said he would like to thank God for giving us such an interesting universe to study,” Scully observed.
“And I in turn would like to thank God for the ‘Texas Atomic and Molecular University’ which keeps the four ‘F’s’ in focus: Family, Friends, Freedom, and Physics, he quipped.”
Contact: Judith White, 979-845-4664, email@example.com;
Marlon O. Scully, 979-862-2333, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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