Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Research Paper Illuminates How Light Pushes Atoms

A research paper to be published in the 18 August edition of the journal Physical Review Letters reveals a new effect in the fundamental way that laser light interacts with atoms.

"Unlike water, which speeds up as it passes through a small nozzle, photons of light have less momentum at the center of a focused laser beam," says Kurt Gibble, an associate professor of physics at Penn State University and the author of the research paper. Gibble's theoretical paper analyzes the speed of an atom after it absorbs a photon of light and reveals the surprising effect that a photon in a narrow laser beam delivers less momentum to an atom than does a photon in a wide beam of light.

Einstein proposed that a light wave is made of photons that carry discrete packets of energy. "When a photon hits an atom, the atom recoils with a speed that is determined by the photon's momentum, similar to two balls colliding on a billiard table," Gibble explains. Physicists often think of a focused laser beam as the intense intersection of two or more infinitely wide light waves, and Gibble's discovery provides an important new understanding of what happens to an atom that is pummeled by photons coming from the different directions of these multiple intersecting light waves. "You might think that an atom would absorb a photon randomly from only one of the beams, but this paper shows that the atom feels the effect of the photons from all of the beams simultaneously and, surprisingly, that it recoils with a speed that is less than it would get from the momentum of any one of the infinitely wide photons."

Gibble's discovery has implications for the accuracy of atomic clocks, which are based on microwaves. "For a laser beam that is 1 centimeter in diameter, the sideways components of the photons act as microwave photons, which have a smaller energy and momentum than visible photons," Gibble explains. The world's most accurate atomic clocks use microwaves. "These microwaves produce sideways forces on the atoms in exactly the same way as a narrow laser beam," Gibble says. "With the traditional approach of treating the microwaves as being infinitely wide, you expect an error in the clock that is comparable to the current accuracy of the best atomic clocks, so this effect needed to be better understood." Gibble's new work demonstrates that the recoil from the microwave photons produces a smaller frequency shift than previously thought, meaning that the clocks actually can be more accurate. Gibble's research also reveals an important correction for the next generation of more precise tests of fundamental physics. Some of these tests use atom interferometers to measure precisely the recoil speed of an atom, which is used to determine the fine-structure constant--a fundamental description of how matter and electromagnetic energy interact. "The important thing is that we now understand much better some of the physics that is behind atomic clocks and atom interferometers," Gibble comments.

Support for this research was provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Office of Naval Research.

Barbara K. Kennedy | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht 'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region
16.03.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Fraunhofer HHI have developed a novel single-polarization Kramers-Kronig receiver scheme
16.03.2018 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Nachrichtentechnik, Heinrich-Hertz-Institut, HHI

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: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>