New Advanced Light Tractor Beam Moving Atoms

Article by by Dr. Olivier Alirol, Resonance Science Foundation Research Scientist 

Tractor beams are often shown in science fiction film to move heavy weight. Even if our current technology is not advanced enough to lift large load, physicists have managed to move small objects using acoustic or laser tractor beam. As mentioned in a recent article, we saw acoustic tractor beam grabbing objects from behind obstacles. This time researchers manage to build a light beam able to attract and repel particles about 100 times further than has been previously achieved.

Tractor beams have been already used to control tiny particles about 0.2 millimeters in diameter from a distance of 20 centimeters. Despite this incredible distance, the researchers claim it is still on the short end of what is possible for this tractor beam technique. Laser beam has become a useful tool for the manipulation and transport of microscopic objects in biology, physical chemistry and condensed matter physics. For example, ‘tractor’ beams can draw matter towards a laser source to perform remote sampling. However, the realization of long-range tractor beams is still a very difficult task remaining theoretical at the moment.

Recent research from the University’s Institute for Photonics and Advanced Sensing showed new insight on how to move cold atoms with light beam. These atoms have been used for sensing, measurement, emulation, and also simulation due to their specific properties of cold matter that make it useful for these applications are its high atomic density, low velocity, and excellent isolation from the environment. All these applications become possible with an efficient non-perturbative transport method.

What is really exciting is that now we have the possibility to do quantum experiments on these trapped atoms. Our first experiments intend to use these stored atoms as elements of a quantum memory. We hope that our work may eventually form part of absolutely secure communications channel that is of obvious high interest in defense, intelligence and industry.

Lead researcher Dr. Philip Light at IPAS

Dr. Philip Light and his team developed and characterized an atom-guiding technique that loads 3 × 106 cold rubidium atoms into a hollow-core optical fiber, an order-of-magnitude greater than previously reported results. This result was only possible because it is guided by a physically realistic simulation with loading solely limited by the geometric the optical guide beam. They also demonstrated the experimental arrangement allows observation of the real-time effects of cold-atom collisions by tracking the dynamics of the cloud as it falls into the fiber.

Our researchers are manipulating and measuring individual atoms and molecules to sense the world around us. This new era of quantum sensing is opening up diverse new possibilities from attempting to detect disease through finding particular molecules in the breath, to assisting miners and defense by detecting anomalous magnetic fields associated with mineral deposits or covert submarine activity.

IPAS Director Professor Andre Luiten

These advances with atomic manipulations are important steps toward future atomic experimental setups. Continuing to probe more precisely the quantum world is essential for the evaluation and the validation of physics theories.

By Dr. Olivier Alirol

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