Over the past decade ultracold atomic quantum gases have successfully been employed as quantum simulators for strongly correlated many-body systems. However, the dominant interactions between atoms are typically short-range in character, limiting the spectrum of quantum phenomena to be explored. Quantum particles with long-range dipolar interactions will open up new routes for quantum simulation and – beyond that – should allow the creation of novel states of matter, such as quantum crystals, topological superfluids and supersolids.
Ultracold diatomic molecules are a promising system for the realization of a strongly dipolar quantum gas. Among several choices, the NaK molecule stands out due to its chemical stability and a large electric dipole moment in its absolute ground state. I will report on recent progress that led us at MIT to the creation of the first ultracold, strongly dipolar molecules of NaK – from the preparation of a new quantum gas mixture of Na and K, over the first formation of weakly bound NaK Feshbach molecules, to the coherent transfer of NaK into the absolute ground state. These advances bring the creation of novel states of matter in strongly dipolar quantum gases into experimental reach.