Achievement Could Improve Understanding of Superconductivity
The images above show the creation of ultracold molecules during the JILA experiments. Left -- A rainbow color scale indicates the numbers of ultracold gaseous potassium (K40) atoms in the vacuum chamber in two different fermion states. White areas have the most atoms, blue areas have the fewest.
Center --After a carefully tuned magnetic field is scanned over the chamber, 50 percent of the atoms "disappear." About half the atoms pair up into loosely bound molecules and are now bosons with different states not detected by the experimental set up.
Right--A low-energy radio wave is directed at the chamber. The molecular bonds are broken and the atoms reappear in a third fermion state (fuzzy blue area in center of image).
A team of researchers at JILA, a joint institute of the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado at Boulder, has done the physics equivalent of efficiently turning yin into yang. They changed individual potassium atoms belonging to a class of particles called fermions into molecules that are part of a fundamentally different class of particles known as bosons. Though the transformation lasts only a millisecond, the implications may be long lasting.
The work, reported in tomorrow’s edition of the journal Nature, is an important step toward creating a “super molecule,” a blend of thousands of molecules acting in unison that would provide physicists with an excellent tool for studying molecular quantum mechanics and superconductivity. Creation of a “super atom” (known as a Bose-Einstein condensate or BEC; see www.bec.nist.gov for more information) earned another research team at JILA the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics.
Fred McGehan | NIST
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