Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Extremely cold molecules created by Sandia and Columbia University researchers

15.12.2003


Dave Chandler aligns mirrors used to direct laser beams into an apparatus that generates very cold molecules and measures their velocity.
Credit: Sandia Corporation


Colors of the ball indicate the number of molecules at a given velocity. The bright spot at the top of the image represents molecules moving with less than 15 M/Sec, with the intensity of the spot proportional to the number moving that slowly. The density of slow molecules is approximately 108 molecules per cm3.
Credit: Sandia Corporation


Using a method usually more suitable to billiards than atomic physics, researchers from Sandia National Laboratories and Columbia University have created extremely cold molecules that could be used as the first step in creating Bose-Einstein molecular condensates. The work is published in the Dec. 12 Science.

The serendipitous achievement came when researchers at Sandia’s Livermore, Calif., and Columbia University, studying collisional energy transfer between a beam of atoms intersecting a beam of molecules, noted that a certain number of collisions occurred -- as they might between two billiard balls -- at exactly the right velocity for molecules to become motionless.

A motionless molecule is a cold molecule, according to laws of physics.



The study had led to a new technique for cooling molecules to millikelvin (a thousandth of a degree Kelvin above absolute zero) temperatures -- a first crucial step toward molecular ultra-coldness.

Though they were experts in neither cold molecules nor cold atoms, the researchers knew that atoms cooled to the nanokelvin (a billionth of a degree Kelvin) temperature range had been achieved several years ago with interesting basic-science results.

One product of the study of cold atoms is a new state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate. Certain atoms, bosons, can condense at a very low temperature and act as a single atom -- a fact which some researchers claim may lead to as many new developments as the first laser, originally only a scientific curiousity.

"Our technique has promise to be developed into a first step in the cooling process needed for a molecular Bose-Einstein condensate," says Sandia researcher and principal investigator Dave Chandler. The work is co-authored by Sandia post-doc Mike Elioff and James Valentini of Columbia University.

Very cold atoms and molecules may one day be used as individual yes/no switches (called Q-bits) in computers whose power our present-day imaginations are only beginning to grasp as well as precision gravity detectors that could perhaps locate underground caverns, says Chandler.

The main method used to achieve atomic ultra-cooling to the microkelvin temperature range -- the same preliminary cooling range as the Sandia technique -- makes use of laser beams that intersect at a point. An atom, possessing the appropriate absorption characteristics, passing through that point in effect stands still, like a kid in a dodge-ball game struck from all sides with balls. Transfixed by pressure from the beams, the atom becomes almost motionless.

The problem in cooling molecules by the laser method is that while some atoms possess characteristics that can be harmonically matched by a laser frequency, like the same note played by two pianos, molecular energy frequencies are more complex. This complexity makes them unsuitable for this type of laser cooling.

This leaves the field open for other techniques to be developed for the preliminary cooling of molecules. There have been four or five other techniques, published recently, that have had some level of success at cooling molecules. The most successful method to date has been the welding of ultracold atoms together to make ultracold molecules.

"Our atomic/molecular beam intersection method is inefficient, it’s true," says Chandler. "We only manage to cool one molecule in a million. But -- inefficient or efficient -- we generate cold molecules. With some improvements, we hope to be able to make substantial numbers of cold molecules."

Molecules are cheap, he says, so getting one in a million (1 in 106) cooling collisions out of the 1015 total collisions per second the molecules undergo in the beams doesn’t bother him.

This first-step method -- the only one to rely solely on the masses of the atoms and molecules involved -- could be useful in slowing down the speed of a variety of molecules sufficiently such that magnetic or electrical traps can be used to cool molecules further. Without prior slow-down, molecules would escape these relatively weak traps, like molecules of water rising from the surface of the hot coffee. Cold coffee evaporates fewer molecules.

Instruments in Chandler’s lab, working at their resolution limit, show selected molecules in the intersecting beams slowing from 600 meters/sec to 15 meters/sec. The group’s calculations indicate the speed to be on the order of 4 meters/sec. This average speed for the molecules is equivalent to a temperature on the tens of milliKelvin level -- that is, several thousandths of a degree above the universe’s absolute zero of -273 Celsius.

The last ninety nine yards, so to speak, are the hardest: Bose-Einstein condensates exist in the nanokelvin range, six orders of magnitude colder.


The basic-science work, funded by DOE’s Basic Energy Sciences, focuses on understanding how energy flows between molecules for a better understanding of heat transfer.


Sandia is a multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration. With main facilities in Albuquerque, N.M., and Livermore, Calif., Sandia has major R&D responsibilities in national security, energy and environmental technologies, and economic competitiveness.

Sandia media contact:
Neal Singer, nsinger@sandia.gov, 505-845-7078

Neal Singer | Sandia Corporation
Further information:
http://www.sandia.gov/news-center/news-releases/2003/physics-astron/cold.html
http://www.sandia.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht DGIST develops 20 times faster biosensor
24.04.2017 | DGIST (Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology)

nachricht New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology

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: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Early organic carbon got deep burial in mantle

25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

A room with a view - or how cultural differences matter in room size perception

25.04.2017 | Life Sciences

Warm winds: New insight into what weakens Antarctic ice shelves

25.04.2017 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>