Date of Award

Winter 2000

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Director

Charles I. Sukenik

Committee Member

Leposava Vuskovic

Committee Member

Ian Balitsky

Committee Member

Alexander Godunov

Committee Member

Kenneth Brown


There is considerable interest in the dynamics of ultracold plasmas and ultracold Rydberg gases. Ultracold plasmas are typically formed by photo-excitation of ultracold atoms to an energy region near (both above and below) an ionization threshold. Excitation to bound, highly-excited Rydberg states can lead to formation of a plasma via several processes, including collisions between Rydberg atoms. Three-body recombination in an ultracold plasma can also result in the production of ultracold Rydberg atoms. Understanding the dynamics of ultracold Rydberg gases is therefore important for understanding the dynamics of ultracold plasmas. In this dissertation, we have investigated the formation and survival of a particular class of Rydberg atoms. These atoms are known as ZEKE state Rydberg atoms, where the term ZEKE is derived from "Zero Kinetic Energy." ZEKE Rydberg states are high angular momentum and high angular momentum projection excited states which can be formed by laser excitation in the presence of electric fields. Without the electric fields, these states would be optically dark. We have investigated ZEKE Rydberg states in ultracold argon in an energy region just below the second ionization threshold of the atoms in our magneto-optical trap. Here, low angular momentum states decay very quickly (< 1 ns) by auto-ionization through a core spin flip due to the Rydberg electron-core interaction. This interaction has been significantly reduced due to the dilution of low l and m states as a result of l and m mixing during excitation. Hence, ZEKE Rydberg states live orders of magnitude longer than low angular momentum states. We are reporting on our experimental investigation of these states in the ultracold regime and prospects for future studies in which external control of these states may be used to control ultracold plasma dynamics.