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Physicists discover important step for making light crystals
Date:4/9/2009

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State University researchers have developed a new strategy to overcome one of the major obstacles to a grand challenge in physics.

What they've discovered could eventually aid high-temperature superconductivity, as well as the development of new high-tech materials.

In 2008, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) chose three multi-university teams to tackle an ambitious problem: trap atoms inside a light crystal -- also called an "optical lattice" -- that can simulate exotic materials and answer fundamental questions in physics.

The deadline for the first phase of the challenge -- June 2009 -- is fast approaching, and the teams have been unable to make the atoms cold enough for their experiments to work.

In this week's online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Ohio State university physicist Tin-Lun Ho and doctoral student Qi Zhou present a potential solution.

Their calculations suggest that it's possible to compress the atoms in an optical lattice until the heat is squeezed out of them -- and into a surrounding pool of ultra-cold Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), which will absorb the heat and evaporate it away.

"It is absolutely essential to achieve very low temperatures for this program to succeed. All three teams have made much progress, but until now, temperature has been a bottleneck for the whole enterprise," said Ho, Distinguished Professor of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at Ohio State.

"Ours is the first proposal to show how the temperature can be lowered dramatically. In fact, we believe it can be made much lower that what is considered achievable today."

A Bose-Einstein Condensate is a collection of atoms cooled with laser light to a temperature just above absolute zero (0 Kelvin, −273 degrees Celsius, or −460 degrees Fahrenheit). The first BEC ever produced was 170 nanokelvin, or 170 billio
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Contact: Tin-Lun Ho
Ho.6@osu.edu
614-292-2046
Ohio State University
Source:Eurekalert

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