Jun 3, 2016

Viewpoint: Taming Ultracold Molecules

Posted by in categories: particle physics, quantum physics

Riding the coattails of cold atomic physics, researchers have demonstrated the ability to steer cold molecules into desired quantum states.

Ultracold atoms have become a favorite tool in physics because they can be precisely placed in a quantum state using optical and magnetic fields. This quantum control has been crucial for understanding fundamental quantum-mechanical behavior and for creating metrological devices such as the atomic clocks that keep time for GPS systems. Current efforts are devoted to using these controllable systems to simulate, for example, superconductivity, but this and other future applications will likely require that the particles within the system interact with each other. Ultracold atoms do not interact very strongly, so an obvious alternative is to turn to molecules. As opposed to atoms, molecules can have an electric dipole, which lets them naturally interact strongly with each other through dipole forces. But molecules are not a straight substitute for atoms. They are much more complicated and thus significantly harder to cool and control than atoms.

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