3D printing helps make ultracold quantum experiments smaller

To find something For the coolest objects in the universe, you don’t have to go far beyond your local university. There, a physicist can cool atoms under stunning -550 Fahrenheit using laser lights and magnets. They can use these ultracold atoms to understand the weakest magnetic fields in a cell, or they can accurately create a clock within a square of a second. But they probably couldn’t take these sensors or watches out of their lab, because they tend to be big and brittle.

Now, a team of physicists at the University of Nottingham has shown that 3D-printing devices for this ultra-cold quantum experiment allow their equipment to shrink to just one-third of its normal size. Their work, published in the journal Physical Review X Quantum In August, it could open the door to faster and more readily available paths for creating smaller, more stable, customized setups for experiments.

Since they follow the rules of quantum mechanics, extremely cold atoms exhibit new and useful behavior. “The ultracold atom is a key technology that moves between different precision instruments,” said John Keaching, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

“Ultracold atoms are excellent sensors of time. They are excellent sensors of what we call inert energy, hence acceleration and rotation. They are excellent sensors of the magnetic field. And they are excellent sensors of emptiness,” added his colleague Stephen Ackel, who was not involved.

As a result, physicists have long sought to use ultra-cold nuclear devices, ranging from space exploration, to detect changes in the acceleration of a vehicle and assist navigation, in hydrology, where they can detect groundwater and detect subterranean gravitational pull. However, the process of cooling atoms sufficiently is often complex and difficult for any of these tasks to take. “Having spent a long time as a cold-nuclear experimenter, I’m always really disappointed that we spend all our time solving technical problems,” said Nathan Cooper, a physicist and one of the research colleagues at the University of Nottingham.

The key to cooling and controlling atoms is to strike them with a finely tuned laser light. Warm atoms jump at hundreds of miles per hour, while extremely cold atoms remain almost stationary. Physicists confirm that every time a warm atom hits a laser beam, light strikes it in such a way that the atom loses some energy, slows down, and cools down. Typically, they work on a 5 by 8 foot table covered in a maze of mirrors and lenses অপ optics components যা that guide and direct light into millions of atoms, often traveling toward rubidium or sodium, which is housed in a special high-vacuum chamber. . To control where all the ultraviolet atoms are in this chamber, physicists use magnets; Their fields act like fences.

Compared to mile-long particle accelerators or large telescopes, these experimental setups are smaller. However, these are too large and fragile to become commercial devices for use outside of academic labs. Physicists often spend months lining up every little element in their optics maze. Even a slight jolt to the mirror and lens – something that can happen on the field – means significant work delays. “What we want to try to do is create something that can be created very quickly and hopefully it will work reliably,” Cooper said. So he and his colleagues turned to 3D printing.

The Nottingham team’s test doesn’t take up the whole table – its size is 0.15 cubic meters, which makes it slightly larger than a stack of 10 large pizza boxes. “It’s very, very small. We’ve reduced the size by about 100 percent compared to conventional setups,” said Somaya Madkhali, a Nottingham graduate student and first author of the study. , They assembled their setups out of blocks that were 3D-printed exactly as they wanted.

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