John E. Thomas, Fritz London Professor Emeritus of Physics

John E. Thomas
Office Location:  185 Physics Building
Office Phone:  (919) 660-2508
Email Address: send me a message
Web Page:


Doctor of PhilosophyMIT1979
Ph.D.Massachusetts Institute of Technology1979
Bachelor of ScienceMIT1973
Research Interests: Quantum Optics/Atomic & Molecular Physics

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.


Light • Models, Theoretical • Phase Transition • Scattering, Radiation • Superfluidity • Thermodynamics

Current Ph.D. Students  

Postdocs Mentored

Recent Publications

  1. Cao, C; Elliott, E; Joseph, J; Wu, H; Petricka, J; Schäfer, T; Thomas, JE, Universal quantum viscosity in a unitary Fermi gas., Science (New York, N.Y.), vol. 331 no. 6013 (December 9, 2010), pp. 58-61 (This is the first measurement of a transport property in a universal Fermi gas, the quantum viscosity, currently of great interest in the search for "perfect fluids," which relates the highest temperature matter in the universe, a quark-gluon plasma at 2 trillion degrees, to the coldest matter, a strongly interacting Fermi gas at 0.1 microdegree.) [21148347], [doi]  [abs]
  2. J.E. Thomas, Unitary Fermi gases, in Contemporary Concepts of Condensed Matter Science: Ultracold Bosonic and Fermionic Gases (Submitted, August, 2010), Elsevier
  3. J.E. Thomas, The nearly perfect Fermi gas, May 2010, Physics Today (May, 2010), pp. 34-37 (This is part of a feature on perfect fluids, which I wrote along with two quark-gluon plasma experimentalists and a string theorist.)
  4. Thomas, JE, Is an ultra-cold strongly interacting Fermi gas a perfect fluid, Nucl. Phys. A, vol. 830 (October, 2009), pp. 635
  5. Du, X; Zhang, Y; Petricka, J; Thomas, JE, Controlling spin current in a trapped Fermi gas., Physical Review Letters, vol. 103 no. 1 (July, 2009), pp. 010401, ISSN 0031-9007 [19659125], [doi]  [abs]