Synopsis: Ripples in a BEC Pond

Atoms in a condensate could be used to image the quantum wave function of an impurity charge.
Synopsis figure
J. Wang et al., Phys. Rev. Lett. (2015)

In a Bose-Einstein condensate all of the atoms occupy the same quantum ground state, forming a sort of tranquil atom “sea.” Robin Côté and colleagues at the University of Connecticut in Storrs explored the density ripples this sea would exhibit in the presence of a few highly excited atoms. Their theoretical findings might inspire new ways of using a BEC to image an atom’s quantum wave function or to control the formation of exotic molecules.

The authors model a uniform condensate of atoms, a small number of which are in highly excited “Rydberg” states. Such atoms have electrons whose orbits extend a few nanometers or more from their ionic cores and exert an attractive force on the neutral atoms in the condensate.

Experiments have already shown that Rydberg states can be created and controlled in BECs for periods long enough to study their effects. The calculations by Côté and his colleagues suggest what these observable effects might be for BECs whose atoms are either strongly or weakly interacting. Strong interactions make the BEC “sticky,” and in this case, the authors find that the condensate atoms congregate where the amplitude of the Rydberg electron’s quantum wave function is largest. These density modulations could be detected with atom imaging techniques, offering a way to image a wave function that is otherwise hard to see. For weak interactions, the BEC is “smooth” and the authors find that each Rydberg electron induces a milder density distortion. The effect, they show, would induce an attractive force between two nearby Rydberg atoms that could be used to engineer molecules.

This research is published in Physical Review Letters.

–Jessica Thomas


Features

More Features »

Announcements

More Announcements »

Subject Areas

Particles and Fields

Previous Synopsis

Complex Systems

Finding Patient Zero

Read More »

Next Synopsis

Atomic and Molecular Physics

Chip-Size Beam Splitter for Electrons

Read More »

Related Articles

Viewpoint: Spinning Gluons in the Proton
Particles and Fields

Viewpoint: Spinning Gluons in the Proton

Computer simulations indicate that about 50% of the proton’s spin comes from the spin of the gluons that bind its quark constituents. Read More »

Synopsis: Neutrino Flashes from Exploding Stars
Astrophysics

Synopsis: Neutrino Flashes from Exploding Stars

Calculations indicate that neutrino emission from a supernova could be detected on Earth, possibly revealing how the star explodes. Read More »

Synopsis: Model Tries to Solve Five Physics Problems at Once
Particles and Fields

Synopsis: Model Tries to Solve Five Physics Problems at Once

A minimal extension to the standard model of particle physics involves six new particles. Read More »

More Articles