Monday, February 28, 2011
Demons, Entropy, and the Quest for Absolute Zero: Scientific American: For the one-way gate to work, I reasoned, the atoms in the gas must have two different states (possible configurations of orbiting electrons) that are both of low energy and thus stable. Let us call the two states blue and red. The atoms are suspended in a container that is cut across the middle by a laser beam. The beam is tuned to a wavelength that makes red atoms bounce back when they approach it, so that it acts in essence as a closed gate. Initially all atoms are blue and thus can fly through the laser barrier unimpeded. But just to the right of the barrier beam, atoms are hit by a second laser, this one tuned so that atoms turn from blue to red by scattering a single photon. Now the atoms, being red, are repelled by the barrier beam and thus cannot go through the gate and back to the left side. Eventually all the atoms gather up on the right side, and the left side remains empty.