Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Physicists demonstrate coveted 'spin-orbit coupling' in atomic gases

Physicists demonstrate coveted 'spin-orbit coupling' in atomic gases: One of the most important phenomena in quantum physics, spin-orbit coupling describes the interplay that can occur between a particle's internal properties and its external properties. In atoms, it usually describes interactions that only occur within an atom: how an electron's orbit around an atom's core (nucleus) affects the orientation of the electron's internal bar-magnet-like "spin." In semiconductor materials such as gallium arsenide, spin-orbit coupling is an interaction between an electron's spin and its linear motion in a material...

In their experiment, researchers trapped and cooled a gas of about 200,000 rubidium-87 atoms down to 100 nanokelvins, 3 billion times colder than room temperature. The researchers selected a pair of energy states, analogous to the "spin-up" and "spin-down" states in an electron, from the available atomic energy levels. An atom could occupy either of these "pseudospin" states. Then researchers shined a pair of lasers on the atoms so as to change the relationship between the atom's energy and its momentum (its mass times velocity), and therefore its motion. This created spin-orbit coupling in the atom: the moving atom flipped between its two "spin" states at a rate that depended upon its velocity.
"This demonstrates that the idea of using laser light to create spin-orbit coupling in atoms works.

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