A Bridge to the Quantum World

22 October 2018

Monika Aidelsburger uses a special type of optical lattice to simulate quantum many-body phenomena that are otherwise inaccessible to experimental exploration. She has now been awarded an ERC Starting Grant to pursue this work.

A Bridge to the Quantum World

On the optical tables in physicist Monika Aidelsburger ’s laboratory, an elaborate landscape of lenses, lasers, mirrors and optical fibers is in the early stages of its “evolution.” At the moment there are still relatively few elements, but her experiments are highly complex and she will soon need to accurately position and calibrate many delicate components. This makes the assembly of the final set-up extremely time consuming.

Immense care and painstaking precision are essential when it comes to modeling quantum phenomena with neutral atoms in optical lattices. Optical lattices are formed by intersecting laser beams that interact to produce a network of “potential wells.” Ultracold atoms can be trapped in these wells like eggs in a preformed carton. In this case the particles of interest are ytterbium (Yb) atoms, which have been cooled to temperatures very close to absolute zero.

Local Control of Single Particles

Last year, Aidelsburger received a generously endowed grant from the European Research Council (ERC), giving her the opportunity to develop a novel type of optical lattice in which each cell can be individually addressed. This would allow her to locally control the motion of the atoms trapped in the lattice, opening the door to a whole class of novel model systems that go beyond traditionally studied solid-state systems. “With this new experiment, we hope to develop methods that enable us to study fundamental interactions between elementary particles,” she says.

In recent years, Aidelsburger has built up a research group of her own at LMU to explore phenomena in quantum physics, whose exact nature remains obscure. Most of these enigmatic phenomena involve large numbers of strongly interacting particles, which effectively makes their behavior inaccessible to a detailed theoretical analysis. This is where quantum simulations come into play—they offer an experimental way to find the answers that continue to elude theorists.

Read the entire article on the LMU website.

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