Physicists slow, cool jittering molecules
Laser’s tickle unlocks ultracold realms
By using precisely tuned lasers, physicists have nearly stopped molecules cold (SN: 12/20/08, p. 22). Usually molecules zip, spin and quiver with frenetic motion, giving structure and physical properties to nearly everything that exists. But by curbing molecules’ internal and external motions, researchers hope to explore ultracold chemistry, quantum computing and even exotic forms of matter.
“This is the breakthrough,” says Matthias Weidemüller, a physicist who was formerly at the University of Freiburg in Germany and whose group recently made ultracold lithium-cesium molecules. Another team, including Jun Ye of the University of Colorado at Boulder, succeeded in making ultracold molecules of potassium-rubidium. Both teams used lasers to join two ultracold atoms.
Researchers can now create slow-moving specimens to poke and prod, enabling experiments that would be impossible with everyday hot molecules.
“It’s really a new frontier,” says Wolfgang Ketterle, a physicist from MIT who shared the physics Nobel Prize in 2001 for pioneering research on ultracold atoms.
Pretty darn small Electron microscopes image single atoms of hydrogen (SN: 8/16/08, p. 7).
No babies, no hormones Researchers infuse mouse cells grown in the lab with small, customized RNA molecules that could eventually serve as a hormone-free contraceptive (SN: 7/5/08, p. 9).
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