Meet...Jiri Kucera

4 May 2021

Jiri Kucera

Name: Jiri Kucera
Job title: Graduate student, Atomic and Laser Physics

What are you currently working on?
Our group is trying to capture and cool down atoms using various laser techniques with the ultimate goal of achieving Bose-Einstein condensation. The element we are working with in particular is Erbium whose atoms have a large magnetic dipole moment which allows them to "talk"/interact with each other over relatively large distances. This in return gives the condensate interesting and not so well understood properties. Right now, I am building an additional stage of the experiment which will allow us to mix in another atomic species. Such ultracold double-species systems are a fantastic playground for studying impurity physics.

Describe a typical day
After a delicious bowl of chocolate-banana-peanut butter porridge and a regular online lab catch-up I usually spend my mornings watching lectures, reading papers and planning ahead for the day in the lab. Then, at around 11, I have training with the university cross-country club (these people are very nice and welcoming but also super-fast! I would recommend anyone interested in either racing or social running to give it a try). A quick lunch – one of either chicken, curry or beef mince depending on what I batch-cooked on Sunday – followed by an even quicker cycle to the department. There are generally two modes of working when I am in the lab. Either I am in the electronics room trying to tap into my long-lost knowledge of operational amplifiers in an attempt to create a useful and reliable device – last time I was calibrating a thermocouple using my housemate’s thermometer and my body as a reference! In the other scenario, I am in the actual lab making sense of all the laser paths that are already on the table while attempting to add my own set of mirrors and lenses – not dissimilar from Tom Cruise in that iconic scene from Mission Impossible. If there is some spare time left at the end of the day, I usually bake something sweet that I can then munch on later on while watching a movie or playing good old Age of Empires 2. Though living with four other housemates that also have a sweet tooth means that it is a never-ending process of production and immediate consumption.

If you had an entire day at your disposal (not at work), what would be your ideal way to spend it?
A day-long hike in beautiful mountains (can recommend Slovenia for that!) followed by a relaxing afternoon spent in a cosy hut atop one of the peaks – possibly with hot chocolate and a book.

What is your favourite place in Oxford?
I have only moved in after the pandemic so haven’t visited many places in the city but so far I have been bewitched the enchanted forest of Shotover.

Plan B: what would you be if you weren’t doing the job you are currently doing?
Astronaut

What discovery would you like to see in your lifetime?
That new paper on warp drive seems legit.