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Thursday, 19 July, 2007

Atoms or Molecules? Both!

Scientists at Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics observe for the first time particles that are atoms and molecules at the same time

Rabi-Oscillations of
atoms and molecules

To be at the same time black and white, upwards and downwards directed – only the quantum particles belonging to the nanocosmos are able to take on two properties that are incompatible according to the laws of classical physics. Scientists around Prof. Gerhard Rempe at Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching have now succeeded in observing a quantum state that represents a pure superposition of atoms and molecules. In Physical Review Letters (Phys. Rev. Lett. 99, 033201 (2007)) they report on experiments with pairs of Rubidium atoms in an optical lattice. Instead of being either two single atoms or two-atomic bound molecules the pairs oscillate between both states. The scientists have counted up to 29 of these so-called Rabi-oscillation cycles. While oscillating between the atomic and the molecular state the Rubidium pairs are at one point in both states with equal probability. Quantum particles being in such an ambiguous state provide the ideal properties for storing information in future quantum computers, i.e. they are the ideal candidates to act as quantum bits. Furthermore future precision measurements of the oscillation frequency may be a sensitive test for drifts of fundamental natural constants.

Press release from the MPQ

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