Scientific researchers at Purdue university have created a new kind of “ultracold” molecule. They have done this by using lasers to cool atoms nearly to absolute zero and then splicing them together. What is interesting about this technology is that it may be applied to fields such as quantum computing and advanced simulations.
At these ultracold temperatures atoms are brought to a near standstill, making possible new kinds of chemical interactions that are mostly quantum mechanical in their nature. The process is performed inside of equipment called a magneto-optical trap. This apparatus uses a vacuum chamber, magnetic coils and a string of lasers to cool and then trap the atoms. The physicists are using the lasers to achieve such an extreme cooling thereby reducing the temperature to nearly absolute zero, or minus 273 degrees Celsius (minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit). If you didn’t know, that’s the lowest temperature possible in the universe.
Some other researchers have used the method to create cold molecules out of atoms of alkali metals, which are relatively easy to turn into ultracold molecules. The Purdue researchers however, are the first ever to achieve the milestone with the alkali metals lithium and rubidium.
The findings are detailed in a research paper that appeared as a “Rapid Communication” in the February issue of the journal Physical Review A, a publication of the American Physical Society. The paper is available online here.
The method that is used is called photoassociation: two atoms are fused together using lasers to bring about a chemical bond between them, forming a molecule. The lithium-rubidium molecule is potentially perfect for diverse applications, including quantum computing. It can be used in this field because it has a significant dipole moment, which can enable these molecules to be used as “quantum bits.” Quantum computers would take advantage of a phenomenon described by quantum theory called “entanglement.” Instead of only the states of one and zero used in conventional computer processing, there are many possible “entangled quantum states” in between one and zero, dramatically increasing the capacity to process information.
The research has been funded by Purdue’s Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship, the National Science Foundation and the Army Research Office.
If you have any sensible comments regarding this story, please leave your comments in the section below.
[Image via thefutureofthings]