- Published on 10 August 2012
Towards a better understanding of subatomic particles using a new cold-atom setup
A team of scientists have made it easier to study atomic or subatomic-scale properties of the building blocks of matter (which also include protons, neutrons and electrons) known as fermions by slowing down the movement of a large quantity of gaseous atoms at ultra-low temperature. This is according to a study recently published in EPJ D as part of a cold quantum matter special issue, by researchers from the Paris-based École Normale Supérieure and the Non-Linear Institute at Nice Sophia-Antipolis University in France.
Thanks to the laser cooling method for which Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, Steven Chu and William D. Phillips received the Nobel Prize in 1997, Armin Ridinger and his colleagues succeeded in creating the largest Lithium 6 (6Li) and Potassium 40 (40K) gas mixture to date. The method used involved confining gaseous atoms under an ultra-high vacuum using electromagnetic forces, in an ultra-freeze trap of sorts.
This trap enabled them to load twice as many atoms than previous attempts at studying such gas mixtures, reaching a total on the order of a few billion atoms under study at a temperature of only a few hundred microKelvins (corresponding to a temperature near the absolute zero of roughly -273 °C).
Given that the results of this study significantly increased the number of gaseous atoms under study, it will facilitate future simulation of subatomic-scale phenomena in gases. In particular, it will enable future experiments in which the gas mixture is brought to a so-called degenerate state characterised by particles of different species with very strong interactions. Following international efforts to produce the conditions to study subatomic-scale properties of matter under the quantum simulation program, this could ultimately help scientists to understand quantum mechanical phenomena occurring in neutron stars and so-called many-body problems such as high-temperature superconductivity.
Large atom number dual-species magneto-optical trap for fermionic 6Li and 40K atoms.
A. Ridinger et al., Eur. Phys. J. D (2011) 65, 1-2, DOI 10.1140/epjd/e2011-20069-4. To see the complete cold quantum matter special issue click here