Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

New system for detection of single atoms

19.05.2009
Records photon bursts from optical cavity

Scientists have devised a new technique for real-time detection of freely moving individual neutral atoms that is more than 99.7% accurate and sensitive enough to discern the arrival of a single atom in less than one-millionth of a second, about 20 times faster than the best previous methods.

The system, described in Advance Online Publication at the Nature Physics web site by researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) in College Park, MD, and the Universidad de Concepción in Chile, employs a novel means of altering the polarization of laser light trapped between two highly-reflective mirrors, in effect letting the scientists "see" atoms passing through by the individual photons that they scatter.

The ability to detect single atoms and molecules is essential to progress in many areas, including quantum information research, chemical detection and biochemical analysis.

"Existing protocols have been too slow to detect moving atoms, making it difficult to do something to them before they are gone. Our work relaxes that speed constraint," says coauthor David Norris of JQI. "Moreover, it is hard to distinguish between a genuine detection and a random 'false positive' without collecting data over a large period of time. Our system both filters the signal and reduces the detection time."

The scientists trap and cool a small population of atoms (rubidium is used in the current experiment) in a vacuum enclosure in such a way that they drop slowly, one at a time, through a hole 1.5 millimeters wide at the bottom of the trap. The atom then falls about 8 centimeters until it enters a tiny chamber, or cavity, that is fitted on opposite sides with highly reflective mirrors that face one another at a distance of about 2 millimeters. Passing through the center of both mirrors is a laser beam of wavelength 780 nanometers – just slightly longer than visible red light. The beam excites the atom as it falls between the mirrors, causing it to reradiate the light in all directions.

That arrangement is a familiar one for labs studying the interaction of atoms and photons. The JQI system, however, has two distinctively unique features.

First, the researchers use two polarizations of cavity light simultaneously: one (horizontal) which is pumped in to efficiently excite the atoms, and the other (vertical) which only appears when emitted by an atom inside the cavity. Although the descent of the atom through the chamber takes only 5 millionths of a second, that is 200 times longer than it takes for the atom to become excited and shed a photon, so this process can happen multiple times before the atom is gone.

Second, they create a magnetic field inside the cavity, which causes the laser light polarization to rotate slightly when an atom is present. Known as the Faraday effect, this phenomenon is typically very weak when observed with a single atom. However, since the light reflecting between the mirrors passes by the atom about 10,000 times, the result is a much larger rotation of a few degrees. This puts significantly more of the laser light into the vertical polarization, making the atoms easier to "see."

The light eventually escapes from the cavity and is fed through a polarizing beamsplitter which routes photons with horizontal polarization to one detector, and vertical polarization to another. Each arriving photon generates a unique time stamp whenever it triggers its detector.

Although the detector for the vertically polarized light should only be sensitive to light coming from an atom in the cavity, it can be fooled occasionally by stray light in the room. But because there are multiple emissions from each atom, there will be a burst of photons whenever an atom passes between the mirrors. This is the signature that the researchers use to confirm an atom detection.

"The chief difficulty lies in verifying that our detector is really sensitive enough to see single atoms, and not just large groups of them," says team leader Luis A. Orozco of JQI. "Fortunately, the statistics of the light serve as a fingerprint for single-atom emission, and we were able to utilize that information in our system."

The Joint Quantum Institute is a research partnership between the University of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, with additional support and participation of the Laboratory for Physical Sciences. This research was conducted with support from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

* "Photon Burst Detection of Single Atoms in an Optical Cavity," M.L. Terraciano, R. Olson Knell, D.G. Norris, J. Jing, A. Fernandez and L.A. Orozco, http://www.nature.com/nphys/index.html, DOI 10.1038/NPHYS1282.

Luis Orozco | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.umd.edu
http://www.nature.com/nphys/index.html, DOI 10.1038/NPHYS1282

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect
24.05.2017 | Vienna University of Technology

nachricht Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect
24.05.2017 | University of Cologne

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: A quantum walk of photons

Physicists from the University of Würzburg are capable of generating identical looking single light particles at the push of a button. Two new studies now demonstrate the potential this method holds.

The quantum computer has fuelled the imagination of scientists for decades: It is based on fundamentally different phenomena than a conventional computer....

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Physicists discover mechanism behind granular capillary effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Measured for the first time: Direction of light waves changed by quantum effect

24.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Marine Conservation: IASS Contributes to UN Ocean Conference in New York on 5-9 June

24.05.2017 | Event News

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>