Scientists isolate, hold, photograph individual Rubidium 85 atom

Oct 01, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- In a major physics breakthrough, University of Otago scientists have developed a technique to consistently isolate and capture a fast-moving neutral atom - and have also seen and photographed this atom for the first time.

The entrapment of the Rubidium 85 atom is the result of a three-year research project funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and has already prompted world-wide interest in the new science which will flow from the breakthrough.

A team of four researchers from Otago's Physics Department, led by Dr Mikkel F. Andersen, used technology to dramatically slow a group of rubidium 85 . A laser-beam, or "", was then deployed to isolate and hold one atom - at which point it could be photographed through a microscope.

The researchers then proved they could reliably and consistently produce individual trapped atoms - a major step towards using the atoms to build next-generation, ultra-fast quantum-logic computers, which harness the potency of atoms to perform complex information-processing tasks.

Dr Andersen says that unlike conventional silicon-based computers which generally perform one task at a time, quantum computers have the potential to perform numerous long and difficult calculations simultaneously; they also have the potential to break secret codes that would usually prove too complex.

"Our method provides a way to deliver those atoms needed to build this type of computer, and it is now possible to get a set of ten atoms held or trapped at the one time.

"You need a set of 30 atoms if you want to build a quantum computer that is capable of performing certain tasks better than existing computers, so this is a big step towards successfully doing that," he says.

"It has been the dream of scientists for the past century to see into the and develop technology on the smallest scale - the .

"What we have done moves the frontier of what scientists can do and gives us deterministic control of the smallest building blocks in our world," Dr Andersen says.

The results of the landmark study have today been announced in the leading scientific journal Nature Physics.

Dr Andersen says that within three weeks of the first laboratory experiment successfully trapping the atom, new experiments previously not thought possible were underway.

The next step is to try and generate a "state of entanglement" between the atoms, a kind of atomic romance which lasts the distance, he says.

"We need to generate communication between the atoms where they can feel each other, so when they are apart they stay entangled and don't forget each other even from a distance. This is the property that a quantum computer uses to do tasks simultaneously," says Dr Andersen.

One atom is so tiny that 10 billion side by side would make a metre in length. Atoms usually move at the speed of sound, making them difficult to manipulate.

Unlike ions, neutral atoms like the Rubidium 85 atom are notoriously difficult to pin down because they cannot be held by electrical fields. In recent times, only two other types of have been seen and photographed by scientists in the world; the Rubidium 87 and the Caesium 133 atom.

Dr Andersen says that for him personally, the breakthrough has been a major milestone.

"I learnt at elementary school that it is impossible to see a single atom through a microscope. Well, my elementary school teacher was wrong," he says.

Explore further: A new multi-bit 'spin' for MRAM storage

Provided by University of Otago

4.8 /5 (48 votes)

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User comments : 26

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trekgeek1
4 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2010
They'll have to do it again, I think it blinked.
16180339887
not rated yet Oct 01, 2010
Incredible... can't wait for entanglement pictures
Cloggy
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2010

Atoms usually move at the speed of sound, [...]

Isn't that a bit slow for an atom or am I missing something?
TDK
2 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2010
This atom has been cooled to few nanoKelvin temperature (which slows down it to speed few meters per second) and held at place within focal point of laser beam - so it actually cannot move.
dirk_bruere
4 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2010
So, the atomic theory of matter is no longer a theory...
Quantum_Conundrum
1.4 / 5 (10) Oct 01, 2010
Looks like Uncertainty Principle is disproven.
Deadbolt
4.3 / 5 (6) Oct 01, 2010
“I learnt at elementary school that it is impossible to see a single atom through a microscope. Well, my elementary school teacher was wrong,” he says.

I find this quote somehow very inspiring.
PhysicsLver21
5 / 5 (2) Oct 01, 2010
Atoms usually move at the speed of sound, [...]
Isn't that a bit slow for an atom or am I missing something?


atom's of different atomic masses and atomic numbers move faster (or slower) than atoms of different atomic nuclei. The speed of an atom is defined by the amount of energy in a system or the temperature, so its hard to say how fast the "average" atom moves at room temp. as all atoms of different elements are different.

Looks like Uncertainty Principle is disproven.


Actually Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle deals with quantum behavior of a particle. Matrix mechanics developed by Heisenberg interprets the electron as a particle with quantum behavior. So when we speak of the Uncertainty Principle, we are actually talking about the uncertainty of the known electron, that the more precisely the position of a particle (electron) is determined the less precisely the momentum is known at this instant and vice versa.
Star_Gazer
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 01, 2010
"You need a set of 30 atoms if you want to build a quantum computer that is capable of performing certain tasks better than existing computers"

This is just amazing to me!
Deadbolt
2 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2010
Is the atom's color false? It appears to be orange, whereas the element is actually silver.
Quantum_Conundrum
1 / 5 (2) Oct 02, 2010
"You need a set of 30 atoms if you want to build a quantum computer that is capable of performing certain tasks better than existing computers"

This is just amazing to me!


It's probably a vast under-estimate. Nothing ever works as well in the real world as it does in theory.

The article about having achieved 3 qubits in one machine states that 3 qubits is the minimum needed to do error checking, and at that it was only 88% reliable. In order to do error checking that is 99.99% reliable, I calculated you would probably need 6 qubits. And all they were really doing is moving 1 qubit worth of data from "memory" to "accumulator".

So In order to do:

LOAD A
ADD B
STORE C

You need:
3 quantum bytes for variables alone.
5 or more quantum bytes for error checking
5 or more distinct registers

This comes to at least 13 bytes, or 104 atoms, and I haven't even considered how to do input or output yet.
Newbeak
1.5 / 5 (2) Oct 02, 2010
"One atom is so tiny that 10 billion side by side would make a metre in length. Atoms usually move at the speed of sound, making them difficult to manipulate".
This has to be a typo.Probably meant 1 mm.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.4 / 5 (5) Oct 02, 2010
So, the atomic theory of matter is no longer a theory...

No, it will always be a theory. Now we can say there's a monumentally greater amount of evidence to support it.

The problem would be manifest if we found matter that wasn't atomic in nature, which is potentially possible. Then again, we'd have to define matter rather exactly, which we still haven't done.
This has to be a typo.Probably meant 1 mm.
Nope. A hydrogen atom, the smallest atom, is 0.1 nm in diameter. Multiply by 10^9(10).
Shawn_Goldwater
not rated yet Oct 02, 2010
This is amazing. So what's that fog around it? Are we seeing the electron cloud?
Truth
not rated yet Oct 02, 2010
"Atoms move at the speed of sound"...
But HOW do they move??? I've asked two physicists this question and neither one knows. They say the atom moves but no one knows how they do it. I find this impossible to believe. Anyone here have the answer?? Anyone here want to best the physisicts?
CSharpner
1 / 5 (3) Oct 02, 2010
I learnt

WOW! Really? "Learnt"? From such a /learned/ scientist? Sorry... just gets under my skin. Anyway, aside from that, this is beyond fascinating.
tkjtkj
1 / 5 (1) Oct 02, 2010
Nope. A hydrogen atom, the smallest atom, is 0.1 nm in diameter. Multiply by 10^9(10).

errr...sorry to shake your boat but the hydrogen atom is the *largest* of all atoms.
You might think of it this way: only a single proton is 'yanking' the electron toward the center.. Therefore, the volume of the atom is the largest of all.

tkjtkj@gmail.com
CSharpner
not rated yet Oct 02, 2010
"Atoms move at the speed of sound"...
But HOW do they move??? I've asked two physicists this question and neither one knows. They say the atom moves but no one knows how they do it. I find this impossible to believe. Anyone here have the answer?? Anyone here want to best the physisicts?


sorry if this shows up twice, but the first post didn't show up.

Atoms move because they've been bumped by other atoms (AKA "heat") and because they absorb stray photons. I've never heard of this being unexplainable. Maybe I missed out on that and my explanation is naive... not being sarcastic. Or, maybe I gave a reaspnable explanation?
dtxx
2 / 5 (4) Oct 02, 2010
Nope. A hydrogen atom, the smallest atom, is 0.1 nm in diameter. Multiply by 10^9(10).

errr...sorry to shake your boat but the hydrogen atom is the *largest* of all atoms.

You might think of it this way: only a single proton is 'yanking' the electron toward the center.. Therefore, the volume of the atom is the largest of all.

tkjtkj@gmail.com


Absolutely 100% wrong. Hydrogen is the smallest. Look up VSEPR to see why. Electrons repel each other you know.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (1) Oct 03, 2010
errr...sorry to shake your boat but the hydrogen atom is the *largest* of all atoms.
You might think of it this way: only a single proton is 'yanking' the electron toward the center.. Therefore, the volume of the atom is the largest of all.

tkjtkj@gmail.com

What the hell are you smoking? The presence of multiple electrons in heavier elements creates a larger electron cloud due to electron repulsion.
red60
5 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2010
I learnt

WOW! Really? "Learnt"? From such a /learned/ scientist? Sorry... just gets under my skin.


Huh? Learnt is a perfectly valid word everywhere except the US. Having to say "learned" instead of "learnt" gets under my skin. Sounds really weird.
red60
not rated yet Oct 03, 2010

What the hell are you smoking? The presence of multiple electrons in heavier elements creates a larger electron cloud due to electron repulsion.


According to wikipedia, the covalent radius of helium is smaller than that of hydrogen (28 vs 31 pm), but it has a larger Van der Waals radius (140 vs 120 pm).
Musashi
5 / 5 (4) Oct 03, 2010
I learnt

WOW! Really? "Learnt"? From such a /learned/ scientist? Sorry... just gets under my skin.


Grammar nazis that are actually WRONG get under mine.
nixnixnix
5 / 5 (2) Oct 03, 2010
I learnt

WOW! Really? "Learnt"? From such a /learned/ scientist? Sorry... just gets under my skin. Anyway, aside from that, this is beyond fascinating.


Using "learned" as the past participle of the verb "to learn" is only really acceptable if you are a non-native English speaker. It is an irregular verb and its proper PP is "learnt". Just as the past of to weep is wept and to dream is dreamt. Because English is spoken by more non-native speakers than native, the language is increasingly becoming regularised. However, to correct someone for not using the dumbed down regular version is to flaunt your ignorance.
Skeptic_Heretic
3 / 5 (2) Oct 04, 2010

What the hell are you smoking? The presence of multiple electrons in heavier elements creates a larger electron cloud due to electron repulsion.


According to wikipedia, the covalent radius of helium is smaller than that of hydrogen (28 vs 31 pm), but it has a larger Van der Waals radius (140 vs 120 pm).

The Van der Waals radius is the radius of impact, or the theoretical "shell" of the atom. It would be the point of measurement without interference into the structure or operation of the atomic body.
laserrick2
not rated yet Oct 17, 2010
OK so now you have an atom, that foggy picture is not enough! Just what are you going to do to image it with greater resolution than one of my family snapshots?