Rubidium atoms mimic the Eiffel Tower, a Möbius strip and other 3-D shapes

The technique could one day be useful for atomic quantum computers

rubidium atoms in 3-D structures

OH LA LA  Using lasers, scientists arranged rubidium atoms into 3-D structures, such as the Eiffel Tower and a Möbius strip, as seen in this image which shows the average fluorescence of single atoms.

D. Barredo et al/Nature 2018

A new experiment gives rubidium atoms a certain je ne sais quoi.

Scientists arranged individual atoms of the element rubidium into a variety of 3-D shapes, including the Eiffel Tower. The team used a laser to trap atoms in the arrangements, performing a hologram-style technique to encode the complex positions. And moveable, laser-based “tweezers” (SN: 5/12/18, p. 24) shifted atoms that were in the wrong position, researchers from the Institut d’Optique Graduate School in Palaiseau, France, report in the Sept. 6 Nature.

In addition to the Parisian landmark, the researchers sculpted a cone, a doughnut and a Möbius strip — a twisted ring with the unusual property of having only one side (SN Online: 7/24/07). The technique may be helpful for creating atomic quantum computers, which could make calculations by manipulating the interactions between individual atoms (SN: 7/8/17, p. 28).

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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