Science paper reveals new clues about how ultracold atoms interact, including how they can switch from non-interacting to strongly interacting in only a millisecond.
Assembling the puzzles of quantum materials is, in some ways, like dipping a wire hanger into a vat of soapy water, says CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research) Fellow Joseph Thywissen (University of Toronto).
Long before mathematical equations could explain the shapes and angles in the soap foams, mathematicians conjectured that soap films naturally found the geometry that minimized surface area, thus solving the problem of minimal surfaces. They could be created simply by blowing soap bubbles.
At the University of Toronto’s Ultracold Atoms Lab, Thywissen and his team strive to answer what he calls “soap bubble” questions — deep mysteries of the enigmatic quantum materials world that simulations can help us solve. Since the electrons within quantum materials, such as superconductors, zoom far too quickly for careful observation, Thywissen’s team uses ultracold gases instead, in this way simulating one quantum system with another, more easily studied, quantum system.
“Simulation gives you the answers but not the theory behind them,” says Thywissen.
Thywissen’s lab has revealed some of these answers in a new paper about the magnetism and diffusion of atoms in ultracold gases, published in the journal Science. The researchers optically trapped a cloud of gas a billion times colder than air in a very low-pressure vacuum.
They oriented the ultracold atoms, which behave like microscopic magnets, to make them all point in the same direction in space, then manipulated the spins with an effect that’s regularly used in hospitals for MRIs, called a spin echo.
Twisting up the direction into a corkscrew pattern and then untwisting it, they measured the strength of interactions between atoms. They observed that at first the atoms did not interact, but one millisecond later they were strongly interacting and correlated.
This rapid change suggested that something was happening to alter the atoms’ magnetism as the process unfolded.
“The Pauli Principle forbids identical ultracold atoms from interacting, so we knew something was scrambling the spins at a microscopic level,” Thywissen says.
What was happening, the researchers learned next, was diffusion — the same process that takes place when the smell of perfume fills the air of a room, for example.
“If I open a bottle of perfume in the front of the room, it takes a little while for those particles to diffuse to the back of the room,” Thywissen says. “They bump into other particles on the way, but eventually get there. You can imagine that the more particles bump into each other, the slower diffusion occurs.”
Cranking up interactions to their maximum allowed level, the Toronto team tried to see how slow diffusion could be. They lowered temperature below a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. You might guess that the speed of diffusion would eventually reach zero, but instead the experiment found a lower limit to diffusion.
“Whereas cars on the freeway need to drive below the speed limit, strongly interacting spins need to diffuse above a quantum speed limit,” Thywissen says.
Ultracold atoms are just one of a larger family of strongly interacting materials, that also include superconductors and magnetic materials. Thywissen is a member of the CIFAR Quantum Materials program, which is developing an understanding of these materials’ novel properties. Cold atoms offer a promising way to explore the mystery of how electrons self-organize to exhibit unusual and valuable properties, such as superconductivity. Quantum materials contain mysteries that have challenged physicists for decades.
"Our measurements imply a diffusivity bound whose mathematical simplicity is exciting: it hints at a universal principle about spin transport, waiting to be uncovered,” he says.
Thywissen says CIFAR’s support helped make this successful experiment possible.
“CIFAR enabled me to assemble a world-class team.”
The authors on the paper “Transverse Demagnetization Dynamics of a Unitary Fermi Gas,” published in Science, are Alma Bardon, Scott Beattie, Chris Luciuk, Will Cairncross, Daniel Fine, Nathan Cheng, Graham Edge, Edward Taylor, Shizhong Zhang, Stefan Trotzky and Joseph Thywissen.
CIFAR brings together extraordinary scholars and scientists from around the world to address questions of global importance. Based in Toronto, Canada, CIFAR is a global research organization comprising nearly 400 fellows, scholars and advisors from more than 100 institutions in 16 countries. The Institute helps to resolve the world’s major challenges by contributing transformative knowledge, acting as a catalyst for change, and developing a new generation of research leaders. Established in 1982, CIFAR partners with the Government of Canada, provincial governments, individuals, foundations, corporations and research institutions to extend our impact in the world.
CIFAR’s program in Quantum Materials invents and explores materials whose novel and unusual electronic properties, like superconductivity, could revolutionize technology.
For more information including images, contact:
Writer & Media Relations Specialist
Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
University of Toronto
Dominic Ali | newswise
4D imaging with liquid crystal microlenses
20.11.2019 | American Chemical Society
Outback telescope captures Milky Way center, discovers remnants of dead stars
20.11.2019 | International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research
Conventional light microscopes cannot distinguish structures when they are separated by a distance smaller than, roughly, the wavelength of light. Superresolution microscopy, developed since the 1980s, lifts this limitation, using fluorescent moieties. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research have now discovered that graphene nano-molecules can be used to improve this microscopy technique. These graphene nano-molecules offer a number of substantial advantages over the materials previously used, making superresolution microscopy even more versatile.
Microscopy is an important investigation method, in physics, biology, medicine, and many other sciences. However, it has one disadvantage: its resolution is...
Nanooptical traps are a promising building block for quantum technologies. Austrian and German scientists have now removed an important obstacle to their practical use. They were able to show that a special form of mechanical vibration heats trapped particles in a very short time and knocks them out of the trap.
By controlling individual atoms, quantum properties can be investigated and made usable for technological applications. For about ten years, physicists have...
An international team of scientists, including three researchers from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), has shed new light on one of the central mysteries of solar physics: how energy from the Sun is transferred to the star's upper atmosphere, heating it to 1 million degrees Fahrenheit and higher in some regions, temperatures that are vastly hotter than the Sun's surface.
With new images from NJIT's Big Bear Solar Observatory (BBSO), the researchers have revealed in groundbreaking, granular detail what appears to be a likely...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Dresden has succeeded in using Selective Electron Beam Melting (SEBM) to...
Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are valuable for a wide variety of applications. Made of graphene sheets rolled into tubes 10,000 times smaller than a human hair, CNTs have an exceptional strength-to-mass ratio and excellent thermal and electrical properties. These features make them ideal for a range of applications, including supercapacitors, interconnects, adhesives, particle trapping and structural color.
New research reveals even more potential for CNTs: as a coating, they can both repel and hold water in place, a useful property for applications like printing,...
15.11.2019 | Event News
15.11.2019 | Event News
05.11.2019 | Event News
20.11.2019 | Life Sciences
20.11.2019 | Physics and Astronomy
20.11.2019 | Health and Medicine