Black-hole like effect in nanotube and the possibility of new matter states

April 16, 2010 By Miranda Marquit, feature
Image (c) 2010 APS, Physical Review Letters, 104, 133002 (2010).

( -- “For the first time, fields of study relating both to cold atoms and to the nanoscale have intersected,” Lene Vestergaard Hau tells “Even though both have been active areas of research, cold atoms have not been brought together with nanoscale structures at the single nanometer level. This is a totally new system.”

Hau is the Mallinckrodt Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Harvard University. Along with colleague J.A. Golovchenko, and graduate students Anne Goodsell and Trygve Ristroph, who are in her lab at Harvard, Hau was able to set up an experiment that allows for the observation of capture and field ionization of cold atoms. Their work can be found in : “Field of Cold Atoms near the Wall of a Single Carbon Nanotube.”

“What we observed has a number of interesting fundamental and practical implications,” Hau says. “We even compare the effects to those of a black hole.” She is quick to point out, though, that the atomic scale black hole effect is not gravitational. “It’s an effect created by an electric field, that creates a singular pull on an atom and ultimately rips it apart. Those dynamics have similarities to what happens in a black hole.”

In order to create the effect, Hau and her team grew a single-walled in their lab. The nanotube was long — 10 microns — and freely suspended. The nanotube was also charged up to 300 volts, a highly unusual situation for a nanotube. Cold atoms were then introduced into the holding the nanotube. “We launched a cold atom cloud toward the nanotube, and because of its charge, atoms were sucked in and captured,” Hau explains.

Once captured, an atom begins on a spiraling path, orbiting more and more rapidly, until it is ripped apart very close to the nanotube. The electron is sucked in, and a positive ion is shot off at a high energy. This ion is detected when it is ejected by the nanotube.

“When the electron is pulled in, it goes through a tunneling process,” Hau explains. “It has to go through areas that are classically forbidden. The process is quantum mechanical. We can observe the interaction of the atom and the nanotube as the electron is trying to tunnel, and this offers us a chance to peek at some of the interesting dynamics that happen at the nanoscale.”

Another possibility is that this combination of cold atoms with could lead to new states of matter. “Since we now know how to suck atoms into orbit at such high spin rates, it could lead to a new state of cold-atomic matter that could be super interesting to study,” Hau points out.

Practically, this new system has potential as well. “We could make very sensitive detectors,” Hau says. “Things like ‘atom sniffers’ that detect trace gases could be an application for this work. Additionally, the possibility of single nanometer precision means super high spatial resolution. This system could be used in interferometers — interferometers built on a single chip and based on , which would be of importance for navigation, for example.”

For now, though, Hau and her group are focusing on refining their technique. “We want to pursue both the fundamental aspect of creating new cold-matter states, and the development of sensitive detectors. This is something really new, and it has the potential to be developed into practical applications.”

Explore further: Understanding tiny reactions: Cold atoms and nanotubes come together in atomic 'black hole'

More information: Anne Goodsell, et. al., “Field Ionization of Cold Atoms near the Wall of a Single Carbon Nanotube,” Physical Review Letters (2010). Available online:


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2.4 / 5 (11) Apr 16, 2010
This is a repost from a few days ago, any chance physorg can stop reposting articles so much?
3.9 / 5 (11) Apr 16, 2010
Why? Do you think that Physorg exists solely for your reading pleasure? Others may not have read this article on the day that it was posted - me, for one.
1.4 / 5 (11) Apr 16, 2010
I gave you a one because -- they are reposting old articles --- thats bad -- its like last weeks news paper coming back out today
Apr 16, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
4.2 / 5 (10) Apr 16, 2010

I think you should be surfing, not if all you're interested in is practical/useful applications of discoveries. The purpose of research is to understand Nature and learn what is possible, not just make things that are useful. Don't read about research if all you're interested in is what great thing can be built next.
1.4 / 5 (18) Apr 16, 2010
meaningful research I am in to...
making atoms spiral into their own destruction around a nanotube just doesnt do it...
very minimal references were made to what this could potentially be used for, how far off, etc.

discoveries ARE useless without a good practical application in mind...
5 / 5 (6) Apr 16, 2010
Re-post or not, it is still interesting. I wonder if, since it expels an ion, it could be used as a generator for an ion engine?
5 / 5 (7) Apr 16, 2010
An application of anything is limited to the time and effort you apply to it. Complaining that you cannot possibly think of a way to utilize a new system is the weakness of the commenter; articles are not at fault unless information is purposefully incorrect. Therefore, don't be a selfish jerk and make a stupid comment if you can't think hard enough.

I am in league with Cal Sailor's idea, he thought it through and mentioned a novel purpose; beautiful. An array of such nano tubes could theoretically propel a spacecraft if the directionality of the ions can be controlled. Ideas, more or less complicated, could be produced if there was more technical detail in the article.

Repost? Ever read something twice and learn more the second time? Didn't think so.

Next time, just slap your hands on the keyboard, hit enter, and we will know that you are trying harder at coming up with a useful idea.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2010
"The electron is sucked in, and a positive ion is shot off at a high energy. "

Set your POSIRS to stun.
not rated yet Apr 16, 2010
If an electron goes in and an ion shoots out....What happens when the tube is full of electrons? Or is an ion simply an unattached electron in a different state? Does this mean the tube is actually transforming the state of the electron? It's been too many years since physics class.
4.3 / 5 (3) Apr 16, 2010
Lucky Brandon, this is a research news site. We care about what research is actually done. If there's a practical application for something that's a bonus, but finding out about our universe and how it all works is just as rewarding.

I'm not sure this would be an efficient system for an ion drive. They charged the nano tube with 300v, are there easier ways?
5 / 5 (2) Apr 16, 2010
Cal, An ion can be positive or negative. Basically depending on whether it has more or less electrons than protons.

Here we see an electron is ripped from the atom leaving a positively charged ion which flies off and hits the detector.
Apr 16, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
5 / 5 (1) Apr 16, 2010
The 300v is only part of the equation. How much current was required? 300v is easy. 300A is not.
Regardless, the fact that they discovered this property is pretty cool. I am sure they are playing with all kinds of fun experiments to see what they can do with it. I like MorituriMax's POSIR.
Apr 17, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
not rated yet Apr 17, 2010
I believe field ionization was discovered very long ago by Erwin Muller. Does calling it a "Black Hole Effect" add anything new to this area? I have no doubt that the field is very high around a nanotube at 300V. What is new here?
not rated yet Apr 18, 2010
I have Hellenologophobia and this article made me crap myself.
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
any chance this can develop into a new kind of ion propulsion? They say the nanotubes expelled the ions at high energies!
not rated yet Apr 20, 2010
I am sorry for the uneducatedness of this question but what exactly is a "cold atom?" This research seems quite promising in the area of new types of engines but I have no knowledge of Cold Atoms to connect the two...for example, if cold atoms are relatively low massed then they could make a much more efficient fuel for spacecrafts due to less weight which would allow them to get out of the atmosphere that much more efficiently...just need to know what a Cold Atom is before I can connect the things...
5 / 5 (1) Apr 21, 2010
Isnt the electric force 10^40 time stronger than gravity at this scale?
not rated yet Apr 21, 2010
"Cold atom" refers to atoms cooled close to absolute zero. A typical room temperature atom is bouncing around with such speed as to obscure the delicate quantum level events observed.

Field Ionization is indeed an old, well known concept, generally requiring a much higher voltage. I think the observation here is that with a sufficiently small "needle" (carbon nanotube in this case) low voltages can be used resulting in a similar spray of ions but using quantum tunneling as the mechanism for separating the electron from the ion.

I wish the article went into more detail.

One can imagine the proper placement of a series on nanotubes in a line could lead to a form of quantum mechanical particle accelerator generating a coherent beam of ions while using relatively little power.

not rated yet Apr 21, 2010
Isnt the electric force 10^40 time stronger than gravity at this scale?

The article cleary states this is not a gravitational "black hole" but rather is similar only in inducing a "death spiral" for the atom around the nanotube. It is the electric field that draws the atom in.

...note: it is a neutral atom, not an ion, until tunneling steals an electron; repulsion of the positive ion from the positive nanotube accellerates the ion perpendicular to the tube.

My question is why the atom is drawn into the sprial in the first place? that a quantum mechanical phenomina or is the electric field distorting the orbits of the atom's electrons to induce a weak electric moment to the atom, drawing it into the spiral.

It is and interesting space for experimentation, resting intreagingly between the quantum and classical level... Much should be learned by work along these lines.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 24, 2010
see...exactly like i said...they removed my comment for telling the truth about em...give it a week or less and theyll remove this one for ratting them out...
apparently its "OFFENSIVE" to them to tell the truth...

PhysOrg-how about you TAKE peoples suggestions to improve your site instead of DELETING THEIR COMMENTS
not rated yet Apr 24, 2010
They always repost stories on the weekends ...
not rated yet Apr 27, 2010
Could you please get a functional keyboard LuckyBrandon? Its really hard to read what you say on this site and not notice all the problems you are having with your keyboard. Get that checked out.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 27, 2010
considering i could take one apart and put it back together without any problem...that aint a problem...the problem is with physorg removing comments of MANY people on this site....which for the most part are either suggestions or requests for the site, and they proved my point by removing the comment that stated they would remove the comment...caps are all on purpose
So, can you please get a life.....or email physorg and make your suggestions..just dont expect any change or response...whichever

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