‘Atom-chips’ research wins multi-million pound funding

Dec 20, 2006

Physicists at The University of Nottingham are to use refrigerators made from light that can cool atoms to the lowest temperature in the Universe to develop the next generation of ultra-small electronic devices.

The academics, in collaboration with colleagues at The University of Birmingham, have been awarded almost £6 million from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the creation of a new Midlands Ultracold Atom Research Centre.

Academics at the centre will use state-of-the-art laser beams to cool atoms to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero — which is around 10 billion times colder than temperatures in the Arctic. Cooling the atoms to these temperatures causes them to slow down, changing their behaviour and enabling scientists to harness this area of quantum physics for a range of novel uses.

One such use, to be developed at Nottingham, is the creation of revolutionary ‘atom-chips’, which are similar to micro-chips used in electronic devices such as laptops but work by using magnets to guide entire cold atoms — rather than electrons — around air tracks above the chip like microscopic magnetic levitation trains.

The ‘atom-chips’ can then be used to build high-precision sensors into a range of electronic devices. These could have many applications, for example, in high-precision navigation, underground mapping and oil prospecting and high-performance computers.

Professor Mark Fromhold, of Nottingham’s School of Physics and Astronomy, said: “Although the atoms are so cold, they have built in quantum heat shields whose performance is equivalent to keeping a snowball frozen at the centre of the sun.”

Colleagues at Birmingham will work on the same area of quantum physics but will concentrate on atoms moving in ‘optical lattices’, crystals made from light.

The funding for the Midlands Ultracold Atom Research Centre comes from the third round of Science and Innovation Awards from the EPSRC, which is funding research projects across the UK to the tune of £31 million.

Source: University of Nottingham

Explore further: Used MRI magnets get a second chance at life in high-energy physics experiments

Related Stories

Vienna physicists create quantum twin atoms

May 02, 2011

At the Vienna University of Technology, sophisticated atomchips have been used to create pairs of quantum mechanically connected atom-twins. Until now, similar experiments were only possible using photons.

Recommended for you

SLAC gears up for dark matter hunt with LUX-ZEPLIN

May 21, 2015

Researchers have come a step closer to building one of the world's best dark matter detectors: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently signed off on the conceptual design of the proposed LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) ...

First images of LHC collisions at 13 TeV

May 21, 2015

Last night, protons collided in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the record-breaking energy of 13 TeV for the first time. These test collisions were to set up systems that protect the machine and detectors ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.