This thesis describes theoretical and experimental work concerning radiation forces on atoms, with particular reference to rubidium atoms confined in a magneto-optical trap.\ud \ud After a short history of the field of laser cooling, a review of the semiclassical theory of mechanical interactions between two-level atoms and electromagnetic radiation is given. Different formulations of the semiclassical theory are discussed, including a new formulation in terms of momentum transfer amongst the plane wave modes of the electromagnetic field. Two important applications of light forces on atoms, namely 'optical molasses' and the 'magneto-optical trap', are then described with emphasis on experimental parameters.\ud \ud Three sub-Doppler cooling mechanisms, 'sisyphus cooling', 'motion-induced orientation cooling' and the 'magnetically-assisted sisyphus effect', are described and their role in optical molasses and the magneto-optical trap is discussed. A new study of the polarisation gradients which occur in 3-D monochromatic light fields is presented and quantifies their relative presence in different light field configurations. Polarisation gradient parameters are developed and shown to be directly related to the relativistic spin tensor of the light field. Implications of this polarisation gradient study for laser cooling work are discussed.\ud \ud The design, construction from scratch, operation and testing of a magneto-optical trap for rubidium are described, including novel designs for two vacuum cells. Preliminary experiments to characterise the trap are described and results are presented; they primarily concern the number and distribution of atoms in the trap.\ud \ud Finally. the theory of time domain spectroscopy is reviewed. The construction and testing of a pulsed dye laser for study of coherent transients in samples of laser-cooled atoms and a proposed experiment to measure the temperature of cold atoms using coherent transients are described. Factors expected to influence the shape of coherent transients in cold atoms are discussed
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