This ultracold state, called “quantum criticality,” hints at similarities between such diverse phenomena as the gravitational dynamics of black holes or the exotic conditions that prevailed at the birth of the universe, said Cheng Chin, associate professor in physics at UChicago. The results could even point to ways of simulating cosmological phenomena of the early universe by studying systems of atoms in states of quantum criticality.
“Quantum criticality is the entry point for us to make connections between our observations and other systems in nature,” said Chin, whose team is the first to observe quantum criticality in ultracold atoms in optical lattices, a regular array of cells formed by multiple laser beams that capture and localize individual atoms.
UChicago graduate student Xibo Zhang and two co-authors published their observations online Feb. 16 in Science Express and in the March 2 issue of Science.
Quantum criticality emerges only in the vicinity of a quantum phase transition. In the physics of everyday life, rather mundane phase transitions occur when, for example, water freezes into ice in response to a drop in temperature. The far more elusive and exotic quantum phase transitions occur only at ultracold temperatures under the influence of magnetism, pressure or other factors.
“This is a very important step in having a complete test of the theory of quantum criticality in a system that you can characterize and measure extremely well,” said Harvard University physics professor Subir Sachdev about the UChicago study.
Physicists have extensively investigated quantum criticality in crystals, superconductors and magnetic materials, especially as it pertains to the motions of electrons. “Those efforts are impeded by the fact that we can’t go in and really look at what every electron is doing and all the various properties at will,” Sachdev said.
Sachdev’s theoretical work has revealed a deep mathematical connection between how subatomic particles behave near a quantum critical point and the gravitational dynamics of black holes. A few years hence, offshoots of the Chicago experiments could provide a testing ground for such ideas, he said.
There are two types of critical points, which separate one phase from another. The Chicago paper deals with the simpler of the two types, an important milestone to tackling the more complex version, Sachdev said. “I imagine that’s going to happen in the next year or two and that’s what we’re all looking forward to now,” he said.
Other teams at UChicago and elsewhere have observed quantum criticality under completely different experimental conditions. In 2010, for example, a team led by Thomas Rosenbaum, the John T. Wilson Distinguished Service Professor in Physics at UChicago, observed quantum criticality in a sample of pure chromium when it was subjected to ultrahigh pressures.
Zhang, who will receive his doctorate this month, invested nearly two and a half years of work in the latest findings from Chin’s laboratory. Co-authoring the study with Zhang and Chin were Chen-Lung Hung, PhD’11, now a postdoctoral scientist at the California Institute of Technology, and UChicago postdoctoral scientist Shih-Kuang Tung.
In their tabletop experiments, the Chicago scientists use sets of crossed laser beams to trap and cool up to 20,000 cesium atoms in a horizontal plane contained within an eight-inch cylindrical vacuum chamber. The process transforms the atoms from a hot gas to a superfluid, an exotic form of matter that exists only at temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero.
“The whole experiment takes six to seven seconds and we can repeat the experiment again and again,” Zhang said.
The experimental apparatus includes a CCD camera sensitive enough to image the distribution of atoms in a state of quantum criticality. The CCD camera records the intensity of laser light as it enters that vacuum chamber containing thousands of specially configured ultracold atoms.
“What we record on the camera is essentially a shadow cast by the atoms,” Chin explained.The UChicago scientists first looked for signs of quantum criticality in experiments performed at ultracold temperatures from 30 to 12 nano-Kelvin, but failed to see convincing evidence. Last year they were able to push the temperatures down to 5.8 nano-Kelvin, just billionths of a degree above absolute zero (minus 459 degrees Fahrenehit). “It turns out that you need to go below 10 nano-Kelvin in order to see this phenomenon in our system,” Chin said.
For some, like Harvard’s Sachdev, quantum criticality in ultracold atoms is worthy of study as a physical system in its own right. “I want to understand it for its own beautiful quantum properties rather than viewing it as a simulation of something else,” he said.
Citation: “Observation of Quantum Criticality with Ultracold Atoms in Optical Lattices,” by Xibo Zhang, Chen-Lung Hung, Shih-Kuang Tung, and Chen Chin, Science, March 2, 2012, Vol. 335, No. 6072, pp. 1070-1072, and online Feb. in Science Express Feb. 16.
Funding: National Science Foundation, Packard Foundation and the Army Research Office.
| Newswise Science News
From rocks in Colorado, evidence of a 'chaotic solar system'
23.02.2017 | University of Wisconsin-Madison
Prediction: More gas-giants will be found orbiting Sun-like stars
22.02.2017 | Carnegie Institution for Science
Cells need to repair damaged DNA in our genes to prevent the development of cancer and other diseases. Our cells therefore activate and send “repair-proteins”...
The Fraunhofer IWS Dresden and Technische Universität Dresden inaugurated their jointly operated Center for Additive Manufacturing Dresden (AMCD) with a festive ceremony on February 7, 2017. Scientists from various disciplines perform research on materials, additive manufacturing processes and innovative technologies, which build up components in a layer by layer process. This technology opens up new horizons for component design and combinations of functions. For example during fabrication, electrical conductors and sensors are already able to be additively manufactured into components. They provide information about stress conditions of a product during operation.
The 3D-printing technology, or additive manufacturing as it is often called, has long made the step out of scientific research laboratories into industrial...
Nature does amazing things with limited design materials. Grass, for example, can support its own weight, resist strong wind loads, and recover after being...
Nanometer-scale magnetic perforated grids could create new possibilities for computing. Together with international colleagues, scientists from the Helmholtz Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) have shown how a cobalt grid can be reliably programmed at room temperature. In addition they discovered that for every hole ("antidot") three magnetic states can be configured. The results have been published in the journal "Scientific Reports".
Physicist Dr. Rantej Bali from the HZDR, together with scientists from Singapore and Australia, designed a special grid structure in a thin layer of cobalt in...
13.02.2017 | Event News
10.02.2017 | Event News
09.02.2017 | Event News
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Life Sciences
24.02.2017 | Trade Fair News