Transport properties such as thermal or electrical conductivity are of great importance for technical applications of materials. In particular the electrical conductivity stems from the behaviour of the electrons in the solid and is very difficult to predict. This is true especially in the case of strongly correlated electrons, when the position and the dynamics of each single electron is strongly influenced by the behaviour of all other electrons.
Figure 1: A system of fermionic atoms in an optical lattice (top) is brought out of equilibrium and exhibits different dynamics for non-interacting (left) and interacting atoms (right). Grafik: MPQ
Ultracold atoms in optical lattices can be used as model systems that allow the study of analogues processes in a clean and well controlled environment where all relevant parameters can be manipulated by external lasers and magnetic fields. Scientists in the group of Professor Immanuel Bloch (Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich and Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, Garching) in collaboration with the theory group of Prof. Achim Rosch (University of Cologne) have now demonstrated that the dynamics of a system of ultracold potassium atoms, trapped in an optical lattice, depend surprisingly strongly on the particle interaction strength (Nature Physics 8, 213-218 (2012), DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS2205). Investigations of this kind give new insights into properties like electrical conductivity, superconductivity or magnetism, and may help to develop materials with ‘tailored’ properties.So-called optical lattices are generated by superimposing several laser beams. The resulting periodic structure of light resembles the geometry of simple solid state crystals. In fact, atoms trapped in such an artificial lattice, at a temperature of a few nano-Kelvin above absolute zero, experience forces similar to the ones that act on electrons in solid state systems. However, concerning their dynamics, only fermionic atoms behave exactly the same way as electrons, which are fermions as well. These particles have to differ in at least one quantum property if they happen to be at the same place at the same time. Bosonic particles, on the other hand, prefer to gather in exactly the same quantum state.
Dr. Olivia Meyer-Streng | Max-Planck-Institut
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