Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

A Microscopic View on Quantum Fluctuations

14.10.2011
Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics
achieve direct imaging of quantum fluctuations at absolute zero temperature.

Fluctuations are fundamental to many physical phenomena in our everyday life, such as the phase transitions from a liquid into a gas or from a solid into a liquid. But even at absolute zero temperature, where all motion in the classical world is frozen out, special quantum mechanical fluctuations prevail that can drive the transition between two quantum phases. Now a team around Immanuel Bloch and Stefan Kuhr at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (MPQ) has succeeded in directly observing such quantum fluctuations (Science, 14 October 2011, DOI: 10.1126/science.1209284).


Figure: Schematic view of the atom distribution in the optical lattice. Quantum fluctuations (white) are directly visible as neighbouring dark spots (High resolution images available at: www.quantum-munich.de/media/) MPQ/Quantum Many Body Division

Using a high resolution microscope, they were able to image quantum-correlated particle-hole pairs in a gas of ultracold atoms. This allowed the physicists to unravel a hidden order in the crystal and to characterize the different phases of the quantum gas. The work was performed together with scientists from the Theory Division at the MPQ and ETH Zurich. These measurements open new ways to characterize novel quantum phases of matter.

The scientists start by cooling a small cloud of rubidium atoms down to a temperature near absolute zero, about minus 273 degree Celsius. The ensemble is then subjected to a light field that severely restricts the motion of the particles along one-dimensional tubes of light aligned in parallel. An additional standing laser wave along the tubes creates a one-dimensional optical lattice that holds the atoms in a periodic array of bright and dark regions of light.

The atoms move in the periodic light field like electrons in solids. As these can be electric conductors or insulators, also the one-dimensional quantum gases can behave like a superfluid or like an insulator at low temperatures. In particular, the height of the optical lattice potential plays an important role: it determines whether the atom is fixed on a particular lattice site or whether is able to move to a neighbouring site. At very large lattice depths, each lattice site is occupied by exactly one atom. This highly ordered state is called a “Mott insulator”, after the British physicist and Nobel laureate Sir Neville Mott. When the lattice depth is decreased slightly, the atoms have enough energy to reach a neighbouring site by quantum mechanical tunneling. In this way, pairs of empty and doubly occupied sites emerge, so-called particle-hole pairs. Intriguingly, these quantum fluctuations also occur at absolute zero temperature, when all movement in the classical world is frozen out. The position of the quantum-correlated particle-hole pairs in the crystal is completely undetermined and is fixed only by the measurement process.

In recent experiments, the physicists around Stefan Kuhr and Immanuel Bloch had already developed a method, which allowed to image single atoms lattice site by lattice site. The atoms are cooled using laser beams, and the fluorescence photons emitted in this process are used to observe the atoms with a high resolution microscope. Holes naturally show up as dark spots, but so do doubly occupied sites as the two particles kick each other out of the lattice in the experiment. Therefore particle-hole pairs appear as two neighbouring dark lattice sites (see figure below). “With our technique, we can directly observe this fundamental quantum phenomenon for the first time”, describes doctoral student Manuel Endres enthusiastically.

The physicists measure the number of neighbouring particle-hole pairs through a correlation function. With increasing kinetic energy, more and more particles tunnel to neighbouring sites and the pair correlations increase. However, when the number of particle-hole pairs is very large, it becomes difficult to unambiguously identify them. Hence the correlation function takes on smaller values. Finally, the ordered state of a Mott insulator vanishes completely und the quantum gas becomes a superfluid. Here fluctuations of holes and particles occur independently. The correlation function measured in the experiment is very well reproduced by model calculations, which were performed by scientists from the Theory Division at the MPQ and the ETH Zurich. Interestingly, the same investigations on two-dimensional quantum-gases clearly showed that quantum fluctuations are not as prominent as in one-dimensional systems.

The scientists extended their analysis to correlations between several lattice sites along a string. Such non-local correlation functions contain important information about the underlying many-body system and can be used as an order parameter to characterize different quantum phases. In the experiment described here, such non-local order parameters have been measured for the first time. In the future, the scientists plan to use these measurements for the detection of topological quantum phases. These can be useful for robust quantum computers and could help to understand superconductivity at high temperatures. Olivia Meyer-Streng

Original Publication:
M. Endres, M. Cheneau, T. Fukuhara, C. Weitenberg, P. Schauß, C. Groß, L. Mazza,
M.C. Banuls, L. Pollet, I. Bloch, and S. Kuhr
Observation of Correlated Particle-Hole Pairs and String Order in Low-Dimensional Mott Insulators

Science, 14 October 2011, DOI: 10.1126/science.1209284

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Immanuel Bloch
Chair of Quantum Optics
LMU Munich, Schellingstr. 4
80799 München, Germany, and
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics
Hans-Kopfermann-Straße 1
85748 Garching b. München
Phone: +49 89 32905 138
e-mail: immanuel.bloch@mpq.mpg.de
Prof. Dr. Stefan Kuhr
University of Strathclyde
Department of Physics
107 Rottenrow East
Glasgow G4 0NG, U.K.
Phone: +44 141-548-3364
e-mail: stefan.kuhr@strath.ac.uk
Manuel Endres
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics
Hans-Kopfermann-Straße 1
85748 Garching b. München
Phone: +49 89 32905 214
e-mail: manuel.endres@mpq.mpg.de

Dr. Olivia Meyer-Streng | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:
http://www.mpq.mpg.de

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers
24.01.2017 | Institut national de la recherche scientifique - INRS

nachricht European XFEL prepares for user operation: Researchers can hand in first proposals for experiments
24.01.2017 | European XFEL GmbH

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>