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‘Magic trap’ preserves quantum coherence in ultracold molecules longer than expected

Jan. 19, 2024.
1 min. read Interactions

A 30-fold increase of quantum behavior

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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is Senior Editor, Mindplex

Artist’s conception of molecules rotating in a quantum superposition in a trap, with clockwise (red) and counterclockwise (blue) rotation rates varying in space (credit: Hazzard Group/Rice University)

In recent research, Rice University and Durham University scientists were able to prolong quantum behavior in an experimental system nearly 30-fold by using ultracold temperatures and laser wavelengths. These generated a “magic trap” that helped delay the onset of decoherence.

Generally, the coherence of this rotating behavior in ultracold molecules decays over a very short amount of time, note the researchers. Before now, the longest recorded quantum state of rotating molecules was 1/20th of a second.

A magic wavelength of light

The researchers were inspired by theoretical work by Temple University’s Svetlana Kotochigova that suggested a certain “magic” wavelength of light could preserve quantum coherence for a longer period of time.

The Rice Hazzard Group applied this theory in the laboratory in a new experimental technique. They created a “magic trap” that kept the molecules rotating quantum mechanically for nearly 1.5 seconds ⎯ a 30-fold increase.

The study, published in Nature Physics, is the first experimental demonstration of its kind and provides a new arena to study quantum interactions, the researchers say.

The research was supported by the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, U.K. Research and Innovation Frontier Research, the Royal Society, Durham University, the Robert A. Welch Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, the W.F. Keck Foundation and the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

Citation: Gregory, P.D., Fernley, L.M., Tao, A.L. et al. Second-scale rotational coherence and dipolar interactions in a gas of ultracold polar molecules. Nat. Phys. (2024). (open-access)

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