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Seeing the quantum in chemistry: JILA scientists control chemical reactions of ultracold molecules
Date:2/11/2010

re diverse insights and applications than ultracold atoms, which scientists have deftly manipulated for more than 20 years.

Scientists have long known how to control the internal states of molecules, such as their rotational and vibrational energy levels. In addition, the field of quantum chemistry has existed for decades to study the effects of the quantum behavior of electrons and nucleiconstituents of molecules. But until now scientists have been unable to observe direct consequences of quantum mechanical motions of whole molecules on the chemical reaction process. Creating simple molecules and chilling them almost to a standstill makes this possible by presenting a simpler and more placid environment that can reveal subtle, previously unobserved chemical phenomena.

By precisely controlling the ultracold molecules' internal stateselectronic energy levels, vibrations, rotations and nuclear spin (or angular momentum)while also controlling the molecular motions at the quantum level, JILA scientists can study how the molecules scatter or interact with each other quantum mechanically. They were able to observe how the quantum effects of the molecule as a whole dictate reactivity. This new window into molecular behavior has allowed the observation of long-range interactions in which quantum mechanics determines whether two molecules should come together to react or stay apart. Thus the JILA work pushes the field in new directions and expands the standard conception of chemistry.

The JILA quantum chemistry experiments were performed with a gas containing up to 1 trillion molecules per cubic centimeter at temperatures of a few hundred billionths of a Kelvin (nanokelvins) above absolute zero (minus 273 degrees Celsius or minus 459 degrees Fahrenheit). Each molecule consists of one potassium atom and one rubidium atom. The molecules have a negative electric charge on the potassium side and a positive charge on the rubidium side, so they can
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Contact: Laura Ost
laura.ost@nist.gov
303-497-4880
National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)
Source:Eurekalert  

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