Scientists track movement of atoms in real time

May 18th, 2009 - 2:04 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 18 (IANS) A new technique tracks movement of freely moving single neutral atoms in real time, that is more than 99.7 percent accurate and sensitive enough to discern the arrival of a single atom in less than a millionth of a second.
The system, developed by researchers at the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) in College Park and the Universidad de Concepcion in Chile, employs a novel means of altering the polarisation of laser light trapped between two highly-reflective mirrors, according to a JQI release.

It permits scientists to “see” atoms passing through by the individual photons that they scatter. The ability to detect single atoms and molecules is essential to progress in many areas, including quantum information research, chemical detection and biochemical analysis.

“Existing protocols have been too slow to detect moving atoms, making it difficult to do something to them before they are gone. Our work relaxes that speed constraint,” said study co-author David Norris of JQI.

“Moreover, it is hard to distinguish between a genuine detection and a random ‘false positive’ without collecting data over a large period of time. Our system both filters the signal and reduces the detection time,” said Norris.

These findings have been published online in Nature Physics website.

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