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Superchilly chemistry

New theory and experiments show how molecules react in an ultracold system

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3:36pm, March 18, 2010

PORTLAND, Ore. — Researchers have been able to stop and start chemical reactions between molecules at temperatures colder than the depths of outer space. And new theoretical descriptions help explain the quantum mechanical details of these ultracold chemical reactions.

The details, presented March 17 at a meeting of the American Physical Society, offer glimpses into the burgeoning field of ultracold physics, which enables the creation of strange new states of matter and has potential applications in quantum computers and precision measurement devices (SN: 12/20/08, p. 22). At temperatures this low, the molecules no longer obey everyday rules, but instead are governed by quantum mechanics.

Deborah Jin and Jun Ye, both of the University of Colorado at Boulder and the JILA research center in Boulder, led experiments which used precisely tuned lasers and electric fields to deftly start and stop reactions between ultracold potas

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