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Superfast science earns Purdue Physicists a prestigious W. M. Keck Foundation Grant


Physicists are pushing the limits of attosecond science with light made of entangled photons

Niranjan Shivaram in his physics lab
Prof. Niranjan Shivaram works in the field of ultrafast science. His lab utilizes ultrafast lasers to study electron dynamics in molecules on attosecond time scales.  Photo by Charles Jischke.


Researchers at Purdue University are working to develop a new approach to performing attosecond spectroscopy by generating light made of quantum entangled photons at extreme-ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths.  Entangled photons have properties that make them inherently correlated in time. Purdue physicists Prof. Niranjan Shivaram and Prof. Chris Greene are leveraging this unique quantum mechanical behavior to study electron dynamics in molecules on attosecond time scales. An attosecond is one billionth of one billionth of a second.

Because this work could potentially push the limits of what is currently possible in attosecond science, the team has been awarded a $1.2 million W.M. Keck Foundation grant. The W.M. Keck Foundation focuses on high-impact research programs that strives to create far-reaching benefits for humanity by supporting both outstanding science, engineering & medical research, and organizations that enrich the lives of children, youth and families.

Shivaram, an assistant professor of Physics and Astronomy, is the project lead and will perform the experimental research of the attosecond interaction of entangled photons with molecules. This experimentation is complemented by theoretical modeling by Greene, the Albert Overhauser Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy.

“We are very excited to receive this grant. The W. M. Keck Foundation (WMKF) supports research projects that are considered high-risk but have the potential to transform a field or even create a new field of research,” says Shivaram. “Without support from WMKF, it would not have been possible for us to pursue this highly exploratory research. We are very grateful to WMKF for funding our research.” 

Funds from this grant will be used to support grad students as well as a postdoc in the experimental and theoretical components of the project. The team will also be able to purchase state-of-the-art equipment as well as build their own components necessary for the experimental work. The grant will support research for a duration of three years at the Purdue University Department of Physics and Astronomy within the College of Science. 

“This is a prime example of how thinking outside the box, with an idea that might be regarded by others as initially crazy, could evolve after some more serious study into a promising avenue that can do what no previous photon source could do,” says Greene. “The rich opportunities for unprecedented time correlation experiments, and also for going beyond the state of the art in high energy photon spectroscopies, are very exciting and the whole arena of possibilities will be fun to explore. The close interplay between theory and experiment, exemplified by this project, continues to be an exciting showcase for the promising research avenues that exist in atomic, molecular, and optical physics.”

Electrons are fundamental particles that play a critical role in determining the behavior of matter and electrons move in matter on time scales of attoseconds. Attosecond laser pulses are typically used to 'strobe' the motion of electrons and capture their motion in real-time. This year's Physics Nobel Prize was awarded to three researchers who made seminal contributions to the field of attosecond science. 

“In our Keck project we will develop a new approach to performing attosecond spectroscopy by generating light made of quantum entangled photons at extreme-ultraviolet and X-ray wavelengths,” says Shivaram.

This prestigious award has only been granted to researchers at Purdue University four other times, two of which went to researchers from the department of Physics and Astronomy (Prof. Michael Manfra in 2012 and Prof. Chen-Lung Hung in 2018).

 “I congratulate Professor Shivaram and his team for securing this support from the Keck Foundation,” says Prof. Gabor Csathy, head of the Purdue University Department of Physics and Astronomy. “Such prestigious grants are testimony for the highly creative and impactful science performed here at Purdue University. Professor Shivaram and colleagues have done incredible work in advancing attosecond quantum optics in atomic and molecular systems and securing this Keck grant opens up exciting new horizons for innovation and discovery in this area.”




About the W. M. Keck Foundation

Based in Los Angeles, the W. M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W. M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Company. The Foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research and science and engineering.  The Foundation also supports undergraduate education and maintains a Southern California Grant Program that provides support for the Los Angeles community, with a special emphasis on children and youth.  For more information, visit


About the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University

Purdue Department of Physics and Astronomy has a rich and long history dating back to 1904. Our faculty and students are exploring nature at all length scales, from the subatomic to the macroscopic and everything in between. With an excellent and diverse community of faculty, postdocs, and students who are pushing new scientific frontiers, we offer a dynamic learning environment, an inclusive research community, and an engaging network of scholars.  

Physics and Astronomy is one of the seven departments within the Purdue University College of Science. World-class research is performed in astrophysics, atomic and molecular optics, accelerator mass spectrometry, biophysics, condensed matter physics, quantum information science, particle and nuclear physics. Our state-of-the-art facilities are in the Physics Building, but our researchers also engage in interdisciplinary work at Discovery Park District at Purdue, particularly the Birck Nanotechnology Center and the Bindley Bioscience Center. We also participate in global research including at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, many national laboratories (such as Argonne National Laboratory, Brookhaven National Laboratory, Fermilab, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the Stanford Linear Accelerator, etc.), the James Webb Space Telescope, and several observatories around the world. 


About Purdue University:

Purdue University is a public research institution with excellence at scale. Ranked among top 10 public universities and with two colleges in the top 4 in the United States, Purdue discovers and disseminates knowledge with a quality and at a scale second to none. More than 105,000 students study at Purdue across modalities and locations, with 50,000 in person on the West Lafayette campus. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue’s main campus has frozen tuition 12 years in a row. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap, including its first comprehensive urban campus in Indianapolis, the new Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business, and Purdue Computes, at



Niranjan Shivaram, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the Purdue University College of Science

Chris Greene, Albert Overhauser Distinguished Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the Purdue University College of Science

Written by Cheryl PierceCommunications Specialist

Last Updated: Dec 18, 2023 11:27 AM

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