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Time to retire the old soldering iron? In the "atomtronic" circuits pictured on the right, it is atoms, not electrons, that flow. Such circuits could form the basis for ultra-sensitive gyroscopes.

Previously, atoms have been made to flow from one point to another. To get them to flow round and round in a circuit, Kevin Wright and colleagues at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland, chilled 100,000 sodium atoms until they became a Bose-Einstein condensate – a blob of floating atoms that behaves as a single, coherent quantum object.

The researchers used a complex array of lasers to trap and shape the blob into a torus. A further pair of lasers, one in a rotating configuration, gave the atoms just enough energy to circulate in unison around the ring, but not so much energy that the condensate decohered.

This "current" of atoms flowed for 40 seconds, four times longer than atoms in previous experiments.

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Category: Science