Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ultracold Experiments Heat Up Quantum Research

20.03.2012
University of Chicago physicists have experimentally demonstrated for the first time that atoms chilled to temperatures near absolute zero may behave like seemingly unrelated natural systems of vastly different scales, offering potential insights into links between the atomic realm and deep questions of cosmology.

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.

Critical Experiments

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.

Chin’s team has been especially interested in the possibility of using ultracold atoms to simulate the evolution of the early universe. This ambition stems from the quantum simulation concept that Nobel laureate Richard Feynman proposed in 1981. Feynman maintained that if scientists understand one quantum system well enough, they might be able to use it to simulate the operations of another system that can be difficult to study directly.

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
Further information:
http://www.uchicago.edu/

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Excitation of robust materials
07.07.2020 | Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

nachricht FAST detects neutral hydrogen emission from extragalactic galaxies for the first time
02.07.2020 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

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: Excitation of robust materials

Kiel physics team observed extremely fast electronic changes in real time in a special material class

In physics, they are currently the subject of intensive research; in electronics, they could enable completely new functions. So-called topological materials...

Im Focus: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

Im Focus: ILA Goes Digital – Automation & Production Technology for Adaptable Aircraft Production

Live event – July 1, 2020 - 11:00 to 11:45 (CET)
"Automation in Aerospace Industry @ Fraunhofer IFAM"

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM l Stade is presenting its forward-looking R&D portfolio for the first time at...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Contact Tracing Apps against COVID-19: German National Academy Leopoldina hosts international virtual panel discussion

07.07.2020 | Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Nutrients in microalgae: an environmentally friendly alternative to fish

07.07.2020 | Health and Medicine

Mobile measuring instruments: Caught in flight

07.07.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Exploring Rapid Changes in the Arctic Ecosystem

07.07.2020 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>