Researchers have trapped and observed individual atoms for what they say is the first time ever. The mechanism is a kind of supercooled atom rodeo, where individual atoms at nearly absolute zero are held in separate compartments before being released to interact in specific ways.
In order to hold an individual, microscopic moving atom down the physicists had to use quite a bit of equipment. There were lasers, mirrors, a vacuum chamber, as well as microscopes, not to mention time, energy, patience, and expertise.
Up until now, atoms have only ever been observed in numbers. This experiment offers a previously unseen view of the microscopic world of atoms.
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 (vacuum) chamber, around the size of a toaster. We slowly combine the traps containing the atoms to produce controlled interactions that we measure,” said Associate Professor Mikkel F. Andersen of Otago’s Department of Physics.
Postdoctoral Researcher Marvin Weyland continued “By working at this molecular level, we now know more about how atoms collide and react with one another. With development, this technique could provide a way to build and control single molecules of particular chemicals.”
The two physicists believe that their research will be useful in the future development of quantum technologies, impacting them as much as earlier quantum technologies, which brought about modern computers and the Internet.
As Andersen said “Research on being able to build on a smaller and smaller scale has powered much of the technological development over the past decades. For example, it is the sole reason that today’s cellphones have more computing power than the supercomputers of the 1980s.”
He finished by saying “Our research tries to pave the way for being able to build at the very smallest scale possible, namely the atomic scale, and I am thrilled to see how our discoveries will influence technological advancements in the future.”