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 the European Physical Journal 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.
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More information: Ridinger A, Chaudhuri S, Salez T, Eismann U, Rio Fernandes D, Wilkowski D, Chevy F, and Salomon C (2011). Large atom number dual-species magneto-optical trap for fermionic 6Li and 40K atoms, European Physical Journal D (EPJ D), 65, 1-2. DOI: 10.1140/epjd/e2011-20069-4