Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Pinning atoms into order

In an international first, physicists of the University of Innsbruck, Austria have experimentally observed a quantum phenomenon, where an arbitrarily weak perturbation causes atoms to build an organized structure from an initially unorganized one. The scientific team headed by Hanns-Christoph Nägerl has published a paper about quantum phase transitions in a one dimensional quantum lattice in the scientific journal Nature.

With a Bose-Einstein condensate of cesium atoms, scientists at the Institute for Experimental Physics of the University of Innsbruck have created one dimensional structures in an optical lattice of laser light. In these quantum lattices or wires the single atoms are aligned next to each other with laser light preventing them from breaking ranks. Delete using an external magnetic field allows the physicists to tune the interaction between the atoms with high precision and this set-up provides an ideal laboratory system for the investigation of basic physical phenomena.

Physicists can observe quantum mechanical phase transitions using ultracold atoms (yellow) in optical lattices (white surface). Originally, the existence of phase transitions was predicted for certain metals and they describe the transition from a conductor to an insulator. For weak interactions the particles are spread out over the lattice in a superfluid state (front); a deep lattice potential is necessary to confine them into single lattices (back). Uni Innsbruck

For strong interactions the particles are already structured (front) and a weak optical lattice is sufficient for immediate pinning of the atoms (back). Uni Innsbruck

“Interaction effects are much more dramatic in low-dimensional systems than in three dimensional space,“ explains Hanns-Christoph Nägerl. Thus, these structures are of high interest for physicists. It is difficult to study quantum wires in condensed matter, whereas ultracold quantum gases provide a versatile tunable laboratory system. And these favorable experimental conditions open up new avenues to investigate novel fundamental phenomena in solid-state or condensed matter physics such as quantum phase transitions.

Quantum phase transition
The Innsbruck physicists have observed a “pinning transition“ from a superfluid (“Luttinger liquid“) to an insulated phase (“Mott-insulator“). In their experiment they showed that for strongly interacting atoms an additional weak lattice potential was sufficient to pin the atoms to fixed positions along the wire (“pinning”). The atoms were cooled down to nearly absolute zero and were in their quantum mechanical ground state. “It is not thermal fluctuations that induce the phase transition,“ stresses PhD student Elmar Haller, who is also first author of the study, which has been published in the journal Nature. “In fact, the atoms are already correlated due to strong repulsive interaction and only need a small push to align regularly along the optical lattice,“ explains Haller. When the lattice is removed, the atoms return to a superfluid state.
Theoretical prediction
The phenomenon observed by the experimental physicists was proposed by three theorists two years ago, two of whom - Wilhelm Zwerger and Hans Peter Büchler – also worked at the University of Innsbruck. With theorists and experimental physicists cooperating closely and a big pool of highly qualified scientists, the internationally renowned research centre for physics in Innsbruck offers an excellent framework for the experimental physicists of the research group headed by Wittgenstein awardee Rudolf Grimm to pursue basic research in physics. This research work is funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the European Science Foundation (ESF) and by European Union research programs.

Publication: Pinning quantum phase transition for a Luttinger liquid of strongly interacting bosons. Elmar Haller, Russell Hart, Manfred J. Mark, Johann G. Danzl, Lukas Reichsöllner, Mattias Gustavsson, Marcello Dalmonte, Guido Pupillo, Hanns-Christoph Nägerl. Nature 29 July 2010. doi: 10.1038/nature09259 (

Elmar Haller and Russell Hart
Institute for Experimental Physics
University of Innsbruck
Phone: +43 512 507-6306 or 6376

Dr. Christian Flatz | Universität Innsbruck
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

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

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

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: 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...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

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

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>