Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


A Traffic Jam of Quantum Particles

LMU/MPQ-scientists discover surprising transport phenomena in ultracold quantum many body systems.

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.

In the experiment, atoms of the fermionic isotope potassium-40 are cooled down to an extremely low temperature with the help of laser beams and magnetic fields. Then they are loaded into an optical lattice as described above. Initially, the edges of the egg carton-like lattice structure are bent upwards (see figure 1, the colours red and green represent different spin states of the atoms) and the particles sit in the centre with a constant density distribution. Subsequently, the external confining field – responsible for the upwards bending of the lattice – is suddenly eliminated. The egg carton becomes flat and the particle cloud starts to expand. Now the physicists monitor exactly how the density distribution changes during the expansion.
An important feature of this experimental setup is the use of a so-called Feshbach resonance, which makes it possible to change the interaction between the atoms by magnetic fields almost at will. This holds for the sign – attractive or repulsive – as well as for the strength of the interaction. In fact, the interaction can be switched off completely. In this case the atoms don’t ‘see’ each other. They move through the lattice unhindered, and their velocity depends on the lattice depth only. During this free expansion, the symmetry of the cloud changes from the spherical initial density distribution to a square symmetry that is governed by the symmetry of the lattice (figure 1, left).

As soon as there are small interactions present the atoms collide and ‘hinder’ each other, such that the expansion velocity of the cloud decreases. For larger interactions, more and more atoms ‘remain stuck’ in the core of the cloud, which remains spherical. For very strong interactions the dynamics of the high density core change qualitatively: the essentially frozen core dissolves by emitting particles and therefore shrinks in size, similarly to a melting ice cube (figure 1, right).
Surprisingly, only the magnitude, but not the sign of the interaction matters. The observed dynamics of the expansion is identical for repulsive and attractive interactions, as long as they are of the same strength. “This symmetry between attractive and repulsive interaction is an interesting feature of these lattice systems,” Dr. Ulrich Schneider, project leader at this experiment, explains. “In free space, interactions with opposite signs would give rise to opposite effects. Here they can lead to a quantum mechanical entanglement of distant atoms and allow the generation of either ‘normally’ or ‘repulsively’ bound particle pairs.”

Former experiments with fermionic atoms in optical lattices focused on the properties of systems in equilibrium. Here, on the contrary, the scientists observe the dynamics of the atoms in an out-of equilibrium system. These measurements are an important step towards a better understanding of the electronic motion in condensed matter. The physicists hope that this knowledge will lead to an explanation of complex phenomena in solid state physics and material science, and consequently to new tailored materials. [Olivia Meyer-Steng]

Original publication:
Ulrich Schneider, Lucia Hackermüller, Jens Philipp Ronzheimer, Sebastian Will, Simon Braun, Thorsten Best, Immanuel Bloch, Eugene Demler, Stephan Mandt, David Rasch and Achim Rosch

Fermionic transport and out-of-equilibrium dynamics in a homogeneous Hubbard model with ultracold atoms
Nature Physics 8,213-218 (2012), DOI: 10.1038/NPHYS2205 (AOP, 15 January 2012)

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
Dr. Ulrich Schneider
Fakultät für Physik
LMU Munich, Schellingstr. 4
80799 München, Germany,
Phone: +49 89 / 2180 -6129
Dr. Olivia Meyer-Streng
Press & Public Relations
Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics
Press & Public Relations
Phone: +49 89 / 32905 -213

Dr. Olivia Meyer-Streng | Max-Planck-Institut
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves
24.10.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Struktur und Dynamik der Materie

nachricht Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

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: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Oasis of life in the ice-covered central Arctic

24.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

‘Farming’ bacteria to boost growth in the oceans

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

24.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>