Otago researchers take control of atoms – In the News

Physicists at the University of Otago have found a way to control individual atoms, making them appear wherever they command.

Dr Mikkel Andersen. Supplied.

The research, led by Dr Mikkel Andersen from the Dodd-Walls Centre, follows a breakthrough in 2010 when the team isolated and captured a neutral rubidium-85 atom, which allowed them to photograph it for the first time.

Cooling the atoms to almost absolute zero (minus 273 degrees Celsius) and use certain frequencies and intensities of laser lights. Cooling eliminates the atom’s “random wobbling”, allowing it to reach a quantum state with high purity, which Dr Andersen said “represents the ultimate control over individual atoms”.

“We are pushing the boundaries for the level of control that scientists can have over microscopic systems. Technical revolutions our society has undergone in past decades largely, if not entirely, originate from being able to control systems at a smaller and smaller scale,” he said.

“This has been a long journey. This is what we have been trying to get to for 10 years.”

The research was supported through a Marsden Fund and the findings are soon to be published in Physical Review A: Rapid Communications.

The findings have been covered in NZ media, including:

NZ Herald: Kiwis control atoms in new breakthrough
Otago Daily Times: Otago scientists control atom
Stuff.co.nz: Otago Uni physicists have worked out how to control individual atoms