CM – New source of cold atoms lays the foundation for portable quantum devices


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June 21, 2021

by The Optical Society

Although quantum technology has proven valuable for high-precision timekeeping, making these technologies viable for use in a variety of environments is still a key challenge. In an important step towards portable quantum devices, researchers have developed a new compact source of high flux, low power consumption cold atoms that can be a key component of many quantum technologies.

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« The use of quantum technologies based on laser-cooled atoms has already led to the development of atomic clocks that are used at the national level for timekeeping, » says research team leader Christopher Foot from Oxford University in Great Britain. “Precise clocks have many uses in synchronizing electronic communication and navigation systems such as GPS. Compact atomic clocks that can be used more widely, including in space, ensure resilience in communication networks, as local clocks can maintain an accurate time measurement even in the event of a network interruption. « 

In the magazine Optics Express of the Optical Society (OSA), S Ravenhall, B. Yuen and Foot Work done in Oxford, UK to demonstrate an entirely new design for a cold atom source. The new device is suitable for a variety of cold atom technologies.

« For this project, we developed a design that we created for research purposes into a compact device, » says Foot. « In addition to timing applications, compact cold-atom devices can also be used for instruments for gravitational mapping, inertial navigation and communication, and for studying physical phenomena in research applications such as dark matter and gravitational waves. »

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, laser light can be used to target atoms at extreme cool low temperatures by exerting a force that slows the atoms down. This method can be used to create a source of cold atoms that creates a beam of laser-cooled atoms aimed at an area where, for example, precision measurements are made to measure time or detect gravitational waves.

Laser cooling usually requires a complicated process Arrangement of mirrors to illuminate atoms in a vacuum with light from all directions. In the new work, the researchers created a completely different design that uses only four mirrors. These mirrors are arranged like a pyramid and placed so that they slide past each other like the petals of a flower, creating a hole at the top of the pyramid through which the cold atoms are pushed out. The size of this hole can be adjusted to optimize the flow of cold atoms for different applications. The pyramid arrangement reflects the light of a single incident laser beam that enters the vacuum chamber through a single viewing window, which greatly simplifies the optics.

The mirrors, which are located in the vacuum area of ​​the cold atom source, were made by polishing metal and applying a dielectric coating generated. « The adjustability of this design is a completely new feature, » says Foot. « Making a pyramid from four identical polished metal blocks simplifies assembly and can be used without the adjustment mechanism. »

To test their new design of the cold atom source, the researchers constructed laboratory equipment to control the flow of atoms through a hole emitted at the top of the pyramid, fully characterize.

« We have demonstrated an exceptionally high flux of rubidium atoms, » said Foot. “Most cold atom devices measure that get better with the number of atoms used. Sources with a higher flux can therefore be used to improve measurement accuracy, increase the signal-to-noise ratio or contribute to larger measurement bandwidths. ”The researchers say that the new source is suitable for commercial application . Because of the small number of components and few assembly steps, it would be easy to scale up production to produce multiple copies.

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