This simple sketch shows the placement of diffraction gratings - represented by the vertical dashed lines - that split and recombine atom waves. The gratings are about a meter apart.
University of Arizona physicists have directly measured how close speeding atoms can come to a surface before the atoms’ wavelengths change.
Theirs is a first, fundamental measurement that confirms the idea that the wave of a fast-moving atom shortens and lengthens depending on its distance from a surface, an idea first proposed by pioneering quantum physicists in the late 1920s.
The measurement tells nanotechnologists how small they can make extremely tiny devices before a microscopic force between atoms and surfaces, called van der Waals interaction, becomes a concern. The result is important both for nanotechnology, where the goal is to make devices as small as a few tens of billionths of a meter, and for atom optics, where the goal is to use the wave nature of atoms to make more precise sensors and study quantum mechanics.
Lori Stiles | EurekAlert!
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