To understand the finer points of various atomic interactions physicists had to calculate correlations based on averages amongst a crowd of atoms that have been chilled down to the point that they all share an identity. Now, a team of physicists from the University of Otago, New Zealand seem to have bypassed this, by forcing atoms to pause long enough for their exchanges to be recorded.
To do this, you are required to have a tiny pair of tweezers, which can hold isolated atoms still and record the changes as they meet. Such pair of tweezers are made from specially aligned polarised light, which acts as optical traps for tiny objects. The atoms need to be cooled down to make them easier to catch. Such a process requires the right technology and a lot of patience to achieve.
“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,” said physicist Mikkel F Andersen.
“We slowly combine the traps containing the atoms to produce controlled interactions that we measure,” he added.
The study which took place, took rubidium variety of atoms, which bond to form molecules of dirubidium. Till this, the project was a bit easy, but to model how the changes take place is the challenge. The experiment requires three atoms, in which two atoms bond, whereas the third, takes away the excess bonding energy to leave them connected.
Using three atoms, in theory, causes the atoms to be forced out of their trap. This experiment was captured using a special camera, which magnifies the changes. They were able to capture the moment when the rubidium particles came close together, revealing the rate of loss was not anywhere near as expected.
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Such a low rate of loss shows that the molecules weren’t coming together as quickly as existing models. This could be explained by the fact that the atoms were confined and had short-range quantum effects.
The team said that the technique used “could provide a way to build and control single molecules of particular chemicals.” Further experiments will help to refine those models, which will be able to better explain how groups of atoms operate together to meet and bond under various conditions.
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