Matter in two dimensions is sui generis; to date, realizations of such systems range from two-dimensional electron gases to superfluid helium, thin film and high critical temperature superconductors, and graphene. At the heart of the techologically relevant and fundamentally challenging problems presented is a complex of phenomena not encountered in three dimensions. Recent advances in ultracold atomic physics have enabled a generic study of atoms confined to low dimensions. In addition to being impurity free, atomic systems offer one the added advantages of having magnetically tunable interactions and ease of density control. I will describe pioneering studies on the all-optical trapping and cooling of a quantum gas of fermionic 6Li atoms in a standing wave here at Duke University (in the laboratory of John E. Thomas), where tight confinement in one spatial direction results in an effectively two-dimensional configuration. As a precursor to next generation experiments, the results of optical tests conducted on a high resolution, diffraction-limited imaging system I designed will also be presented.