Otago University Physicists Make Substantial Breakthrough

A team of six University of Otago physicists have managed to control individual atoms, causing them to appear wherever they want them to.

The success was down to seven lasers, with components from compact disc players, and precision mirrors. 

Lead Otago researcher Dr Mikkel Andersen says that laser light is the key. He explained that the team “cool the atoms [to just above absolute zero], hold them, change how they affect each other and make them visible by shining laser light, with different frequency and intensity, on them. We make repeated use of the phenomenal degree of control one can have over the frequency of laser light, which is a truly astounding feature of lasers.”

The work was completed in an air-conditioned laboratory from which all ‘noise’ (electromagnetic, sound, temperature contrasts) that might affect the equipment and the results has been minimised or eliminated.

The tables on which the experiment has been built float on air, one way of keeping down the ‘noise’, Andersen says.

The team’s results may be beneficial in the future development of a wide range of technologies, including incredibly fast quantum computers for calculations of extreme complexity. 

Andersen noted that “It is likely the main applications will be in technologies we have not yet thought about.”

The department had a similar breakthrough in 2010 when they managed to isolate and capture a neutral rubidium-85 atom, photographing it for the first time.

This article first appeared in Issue 4, 2017.
Posted 10:49am Sunday 19th March 2017 by Joe Higham.