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How To Catch An Atom

“Bose Einstein condensation (BEC) was one of the highlights of late 20th century physics.

Scientists showed that if you cooled atoms enough, they would all get together in the same quantum state. At this point, it becomes meaningless to speak of “this” atom or “that” atom, since they are all absolutely identical and indistinguishable and can be manipulated collectively.

Because they all start in the same place—quantum mechanically speaking—they all end up in the same place.

This robustness seems like it would be really useful, but there’s a catch: creating a BEC requires an optical table, an enormous vacuum system, and a generally large and complicated setup. The vacuum system is unavoidable, but researchers have been working hard on miniaturizing the rest of the setup.

Traps (basically wires on chips) can now hold atoms in large areas, a consequence of the low frequency currents that run through the wires and create a trapping magnetic field.

To create traps that confine atoms within a few nanometers, researchers have now created traps using plasmonic fields.”

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