Physicists succeed in revealing the scaling behaviour of exotic giant molecules

Jul 21, 2014

When a two-body relation becomes a three-body relation, the behaviour of the system changes and typically becomes more complex. While the basic physics of two interacting particles is well understood, the mathematical description of a three- or many-body system becomes increasingly difficult, such that calculating the dynamics can blast the capacities of even modern super computers. However, under certain conditions, the quantum mechanical three-body problem may have a universal scaling solution. The predictions of such a model have now been confirmed experimentally by physicists of Heidelberg University. The scientists under Prof. Dr. Matthias Weidemüller investigated three-particle molecules, known as trimers, under exotic conditions.

The scientific results were published in Physical Review Letters.

The scientific work done in Heidelberg is based on a theory which was posed by the Russian physicist Vitaly Efimov more than 40 years ago. It focuses on finding physical laws capable of predicting the behaviour and energy states of an arbitrary number of particles. According to Efimov's prediction, bound states of three can be universally described under certain conditions. The scientist found that infinitely many quantum mechanical bound states for the "ménage à trois" exist, even if two of the atoms cannot bind together. These so-called Efimov trimers are formed due to the long-range quantum mechanical interaction and they are completely independent of the underlying type of the three interacting particles.

Prof. Weidemüller says that Efimov's prediction was considered "exotic" for a long time, since the conditions under which these molecular three-body bound states exist seemed unattainable in research. "Physicists with different scientific backgrounds have tried in vain to find signatures of the Efimov trimers," explains the Heidelberg scientist. It was only about ten years ago that scientists from Innsbruck were able to provide clear evidence for these trimers in systems consisting of three identical atoms. Shortly afterwards, physicists working with Prof. Dr. Selim Jochim in Heidelberg succeeded in measuring the exact binding energy of the Efimov trimers. In the course of scientific work performed at the Center for Quantum Dynamics and the Institute for Physics of Heidelberg University, further properties of the exotic Efimov trimers were investigated. To this end, the researchers cooled a gas of two different atomic species – caesium and lithium – to temperatures close to absolute zero. At the same time, they took care to precisely control the interaction between these lithium and caesium atom pairs.

In an ultra-high vacuum chamber the atoms were cooled solely by laser light and stored by light forces in a focused laser beam for several seconds. The coupling strength between the atoms can then be controlled by changing the magnetic field. For this Prof. Weidemüller's team made use of what are known as atomic scattering resonances. The evidence of the trimers is based on the decay into their three components at a well-defined coupling strength. The strength of this coupling scales independently of the respective trimer bound state according to a purely numeric scaling factor. "We proved that the universal scaling is also valid in systems with different atoms," says Rico Pires, who is working on his dissertation in Prof. Weidemüller's team.

These scientists also succeeded in confirming that the scaling factor changes for a trimer of different particles as opposed to a trimer state of identical atoms, as PhD student Juris Ulmanis explains. They thus showed that Efimov's theory is applicable to a large number of systems. Project leader Dr. Eva Kuhnle points to another success of the experimental work: "For the first time we were able to not only prove the existence of the trimer ground state, but also the first two excited states. These molecules consisting of three atoms then reach macroscopic sizes, comparable to that of a bacterium."

Prof. Weidemüller emphasises that these research results are important for many areas of physics – ranging from atomic to nuclear physics: "It is not only the evidence for the universal scaling behaviour that is interesting, but also the accurate measurement of the tiniest deviations of this scaling. From this we gain new knowledge how Efimov's theory can be applied to realistic three-body systems," says the Heidelberg scientist. "Our aim is a deeper understanding of quantum mechanical many-body systems, one of the most important but also most difficult research areas in modern physics."

Explore further: Physicists provide experimental proof of theorized Efimov states

More information: R. Pires, J. Ulmanis, S. Häfner, M. Repp, A. Arias, E. D. Kuhnle and M. Weidemüller: "Observation of Efimov Resonances in a Mixture with Extreme Mass Imbalance." Phys. Rev. Lett. 112, 250404 (published 25 June 2014), DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.112.250404

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Rice physicists find reappearing quantum trios

Dec 11, 2009

Using atoms at temperatures colder than deep space, Rice University physicists have delivered overwhelming proof for a once-scoffed-at theory that's become a hotbed for research some 40 years after it first ...

From three to four: a quantum leap in few-body physics

Apr 07, 2009

Scientists from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, led by Rudolf Grimm offer new insights into the extremely complex few-body problem. For the first time, the quantum physicists provide evidence of universal ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

George_Rajna
Jul 22, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Jul 22, 2014
These molecules consisting of three atoms then reach macroscopic sizes, comparable to that of a bacterium

That boggles the mind.
Pexeso
not rated yet Jul 22, 2014
preprint, more technical abstract. Such a situation can exist even for macroscopic bodies, but it's very unstable. At the quantum scale the mutual interaction of each pair of bodies becomes strengthened (the vacuum becomes more dense and heavy between tightly interacting objects) and after then the third body revolves the center of mass of remaining two at distance. The analogous effects happen at both cosmic scale (dark matter and dark galaxies) both small nuclear scale (the glueballs - composite particles composed of gluons only). So-called halo nuclei do behave in similar way and their neutrons revolve them at substantial scales. It's speculated, such an effects could be responsible for cold fusion effects.
mikep608
1 / 5 (1) Aug 26, 2014
WOW Heidelberg, my home town..the cooling of the atom reduces the positive charge. here's more info
https://www.faceb...timeline

they act like there's an endless amount of mechanisms these things have for everything atoms do. I sat differently

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.