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 Basque researchers turn light upside down
23.02.2018 | Elhuyar Fundazioa

nachricht Attoseconds break into atomic interior
23.02.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Quantenoptik

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: Attoseconds break into atomic interior

A newly developed laser technology has enabled physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (jointly run by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics) to generate attosecond bursts of high-energy photons of unprecedented intensity. This has made it possible to observe the interaction of multiple photons in a single such pulse with electrons in the inner orbital shell of an atom.

In order to observe the ultrafast electron motion in the inner shells of atoms with short light pulses, the pulses must not only be ultrashort, but very...

Im Focus: Good vibrations feel the force

A group of researchers led by Andrea Cavalleri at the Max Planck Institute for Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) in Hamburg has demonstrated a new method enabling precise measurements of the interatomic forces that hold crystalline solids together. The paper Probing the Interatomic Potential of Solids by Strong-Field Nonlinear Phononics, published online in Nature, explains how a terahertz-frequency laser pulse can drive very large deformations of the crystal.

By measuring the highly unusual atomic trajectories under extreme electromagnetic transients, the MPSD group could reconstruct how rigid the atomic bonds are...

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Basque researchers turn light upside down

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Finnish research group discovers a new immune system regulator

23.02.2018 | Health and Medicine

Attoseconds break into atomic interior

23.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>