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“Our method involves the individual trapping and cooling of three atoms to a temperature of about a millionth of a Kelvin using highly focused laser beams in a hyper-evacuated chamber,” said lead author Dr. Mikkel Andersen, a physicist in the Department of Physics at the University of Otago and the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies.

“We slowly combine the traps containing the atoms to produce controlled interactions that we measure.”

When the three atoms approach each other, two form a molecule, and all receive a kick from the energy released in the process. A microscope camera allows the process to be magnified and viewed.

“Two atoms alone can’t form a molecule, it takes at least three to do chemistry,” said co-author Dr. Marvin Weyland, a postdoctoral researcher in the University of Otago and the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies.

“Our work is the first time this basic process has been studied in isolation, and it turns out that it gave several surprising results that were not expected from previous measurement in large clouds of atoms.”

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Category: Science