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Bacteria-sized molecules created in lab

Linked cesium atoms could play role in quantum computing

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7:00am, August 29, 2016
cesium atoms

MAMMOTH MOLECULES  Pairs of cesium atoms (illustrated) can be bonded together into molecules the size of bacteria, like the E. coli shown here for scale. The outermost electron in each atom has been boosted to high energy, creating a state known as a Rydberg atom (indicated by asterisks).

Scientists have created giant molecules — the size of bacteria — that may be useful in future quantum computers.

The molecules of unusual size are formed from pairs of Rydberg atoms — atoms with an electron that has been boosted into a high-energy state. Such electrons orbit far from their atom’s nucleus and, as a result, can feel the influence of faraway atoms.

To create the molecules, researchers cooled cesium atoms nearly to absolute zero, hitting them with lasers to form Rydberg atoms that bound together in pairs. These molecules are about one thousandth of a millimeter in size — a thousand times the size of a typical molecule — scientists report August 19 in Physical Review Letters.

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