Stopping atoms

October 3, 2007

With atoms and molecules in a gas moving at thousands of kilometres per hour, physicists have long sought a way to slow them down to a few kilometres per hour to trap them.

A paper, published today in the Institute of Physics’ New Journal of Physics, demonstrates how a group of physicists from The University of Texas at Austin, US, have found a way to slow down, stop and explore a much wider range of atoms than ever before.

Inspired by the coilgun that was developed by the University’s Center for Electromechanics, the group has developed an "atomic coilgun" that slows and gradually stops atoms with a sequence of pulsed magnetic fields.

Dr. Mark Raizen and his colleagues in Texas ultimately plan on using the gun to trap atomic hydrogen, which he said has been the Rosetta Stone of physics for many years and is the simplest and most abundant atom in the periodic table.

Work on slowing and stopping atoms has been at the forefront of advancement in physics for some time. In 1997, there were three joint-winners for the Nobel Prize in Physics for their combined contribution to laser cooling - a method using laser light to cool gases and keep atoms floating or captured in "atom traps".

These important advances had limited use because they only applied to atoms with 'closed two-level transition', excluding important elements such as hydrogen, iron, nickel and cobalt. In contrast, nearly all elements and a wide range of molecules are affected by magnetic forces, or are paramagnetic, which means that this latest research has much wider applicability.

Professor Raizen said, "Of particular importance are the doors being opened for our understanding of hydrogen. Precision spectroscopy of hydrogen's isotopes, deuterium and tritium, continues to be of great interest to both atomic and nuclear physics. Further study of tritium, as the simplest radioactive element, also serves as an ideal system for the study of Beta decay. "

Having successfully designed and used an 18-coil device to slow a supersonic beam of metastable neon atoms, the team is now developing a 64-stage device to further slow and stop atoms.

Source: Institute of Physics

Explore further: Scientists chart how brain signals connect to neurons

Related Stories

Scientists chart how brain signals connect to neurons

December 14, 2017

Scientists at Johns Hopkins have used supercomputers to create an atomic scale map that tracks how the signaling chemical glutamate binds to a neuron in the brain. The findings, say the scientists, shed light on the dynamic ...

Scientists demonstrate one of largest quantum simulators

November 29, 2017

Physicists at MIT and Harvard University have demonstrated a new way to manipulate quantum bits of matter. In a paper published today in the journal Nature, they report using a system of finely tuned lasers to first trap ...

Thunderstorms create radioactivity, scientists discover

November 23, 2017

Thunder and lightning have sparked awe and fear in humans since time immemorial. In both modern and ancient cultures, these natural phenomena are often thought to be governed by some of the most important and powerful gods ...

Recommended for you

Single-photon detector can count to four

December 15, 2017

Engineers have shown that a widely used method of detecting single photons can also count the presence of at least four photons at a time. The researchers say this discovery will unlock new capabilities in physics labs working ...

Real-time observation of collective quantum modes

December 15, 2017

A cylindrical rod is rotationally symmetric - after any arbitrary rotation around its axis it always looks the same. If an increasingly large force is applied to it in the longitudinal direction, however, it will eventually ...

A shoe-box-sized chemical detector

December 15, 2017

A chemical sensor prototype developed at the University of Michigan will be able to detect "single-fingerprint quantities" of substances from a distance of more than 100 feet away, and its developers are working to shrink ...

An ultradilute quantum liquid made from ultra-cold atoms

December 14, 2017

ICFO researchers created a novel type of liquid 100 million times more dilute than water and 1 million times thinner than air. The experiments, published in Science, exploit a fascinating quantum effect to produce droplets ...

0 comments

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.