Cold atoms for quantum technology

May 8, 2013, National Physical Laboratory
A microfabricated grating transforms a single incoming laser beam into a light field specially tailored for trapping and cooling atoms.

Researchers from the National Physical Laboratory, University of Strathclyde, Imperial College London and University of Glasgow have developed a portable way to produce ultracold atoms for quantum technology and quantum information processing. Their research has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, where it is featured on the front cover.

Many of the most accurate measurement devices, including atomic clocks, work by observing how atoms transfer between individual quantum states. The longer the atomic transition can be observed, the more precisely it can be measured. Slow-moving enable the longest observation times and the highest precision. By illuminating the atoms with laser light, the is used to cool them down to microkelvin temperatures, a task normally achieved in a large apparatus.

Complementary approaches to microfabricate the prototype chips were developed by NPL and Imperial College London. Following this, the team further developed the technology which can make an important contribution to metrology and high-precision measurements by enabling atomic to be miniaturised. Advanced versions of the specialised optical diffraction gratings were co-designed by the groups in the collaboration and microfabricated by Kelvin Nanotechnology Ltd using Glasgow's James Watt Nanofabrication Centre.

These researchers have developed a technology which enables a far more compact optical setup than previously, yet it can still cool and trap large numbers of atoms for use in portable instruments. They pattern the surface of a semiconductor chip to form a , splitting a laser into several beams that trap and cool the atoms.

Portable clocks, magnetometers and accelerometers have wide-ranging applications, including navigation on earth and in space, telecomunications, geological exploration, and medical imaging.

This atom chip follows on from NPL's recent demonstration of a novel ion microtrap chip, which appeared in Nature Nanotechnology in 2012.

Explore further: Optical Atomic Clock: A long look at the captured atoms

More information: Read the full letter in Nature Nanotechnology: A surface-pattered chip as a strong source of ultracold atoms for quantum technologies

Read "Cold atoms: Trapped by nanostructures" in Nature Nanotechnology - News and Views - that accompanies the letter.

Related Stories

Optical Atomic Clock: A long look at the captured atoms

February 5, 2008

Optical clocks might become the atomic clocks of the future. Their "pendulum", i.e. the regular oscillation process which each clock needs, is an oscillation in the range of the visible light. As its frequency is higher than ...

Scalable device for quantum information processing

July 24, 2012

( -- Researchers in NPL's Quantum Detection Group have demonstrated for the first time a monolithic 3D ion microtrap array which could be scaled up to handle several tens of ion-based quantum bits (qubits). The research, ...

Portable Precision: A New Type of Atomic Clock

December 10, 2008

( -- The most accurate atomic clocks in the world are based on the output of cesium atoms. These ultra-precise fountain clocks measure the frequency and time interval of seconds by using a fountain-like movement ...

Portable Precision: A New Type of Atomic Clock

June 11, 2009

The most accurate atomic clocks in the world are based on the output of cesium atoms. These ultra-precise fountain clocks measure the frequency and time interval of seconds by using a fountain-like movement of cesium atoms. ...

New record for measurement of atomic lifetime

September 7, 2011

Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute have measured the lifetime of an extremely stable energy level of magnesium atoms with great precision. Magnesium atoms are used in research with ultra-precise atomic clocks. The new ...

Recommended for you

Scientists produce 3-D chemical maps of single bacteria

November 16, 2018

Scientists at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II)—a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Science User Facility at DOE's Brookhaven National Laboratory—have used ultrabright x-rays to image single bacteria ...

Bursting bubbles launch bacteria from water to air

November 15, 2018

Wherever there's water, there's bound to be bubbles floating at the surface. From standing puddles, lakes, and streams, to swimming pools, hot tubs, public fountains, and toilets, bubbles are ubiquitous, indoors and out.

Terahertz laser pulses amplify optical phonons in solids

November 15, 2018

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg/Germany presents evidence of the amplification of optical phonons ...

Quantum science turns social

November 15, 2018

Researchers in a lab at Aarhus University have developed a versatile remote gaming interface that allowed external experts as well as hundreds of citizen scientists all over the world to optimize a quantum gas experiment ...


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.