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New Zealand Scientists Make Atom-Trapping Breakthrough

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the gotta-keep-'em-separated dept.

Science 101

Mogster writes with this news from New Zealand: "'University of Otago scientists have made a 'major physics breakthrough' with the development of a technique to consistently isolate and capture a fast-moving single atom. A team of four researchers from the university's physics department are believed to be the first to isolate and photograph the Rubidium 85 atom.' Good to see Kiwis following in Rutherford's footsteps."

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101 comments

Oh... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33707696)

On a related note, Operation Payback (tieve.tk) is going smoothly.

Re:Oh... (4, Interesting)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707810)

On an actually related note, was I the only one who eagerly viewed the story with the supposed photograph [of] the Rubidium 85 atom and felt very cheated that the article didn't contain the photograph of the atom?

Re:Oh... (5, Informative)

euphemistic (1850880) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707860)

Not the only one at all. I wanted to see a photograph of an atom.

The good news is I went and found it, the bad news is it's probably not as cool as I'd hoped: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/ED1009/S00122/university-of-otago-atom-breakthrough-represents.htm [scoop.co.nz]

Re:Oh... (1)

jackbird (721605) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708098)

On the other hand, that same news outlet apparently brought back Sam Kinnison from the dead to do their wine reviews [scoop.co.nz], which sort of makes up for it.

Re:Oh... (1)

Ol Biscuitbarrel (1859702) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708160)

Que? Was expecting copy along the lines of "The nose had a musty apertif of hazelnuts, OH, OH, OH, YEAH GODDAMNIT!" That was no more Kinison-esque as Michael Jackson's reviews of beer and wine [wikipedia.org] dealt with pedophilia, glove on one hand, etc.

damn kiwis! (1)

Thud457 (234763) | more than 3 years ago | (#33710600)

This ought to help advance their crash program to create bubbles in beer.

Now where's that chisel?

Re:Oh... (4, Informative)

Interoperable (1651953) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708126)

Photographs of trapped single atoms abound; they're just not that interesting. The atom will scatter light from the trapping beams and the scattered light can be easily imaged onto a camera. In fact, imaging is often used to characterize the trap. The atom just shows up as a blurry dot with the size of the blur being determined by the diffraction limit of the light or perhaps the tightness of the confinement. There's certainly no internal structure that would be resolvable.

Re:Oh... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708760)

My police department has a trap that works for fast moving conglomerates of billions of atoms, they call it a 'jail'.

Re:Oh... (3, Informative)

Fluffeh (1273756) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708158)

The last one that I saw which was pretty cool was this one [insidescience.org] which was a photo of a carbon atom taken by Ukranian researchers. It at least shows two pictures showing different electron clouds.

I couldn't find an article to the original article, but this article has the picture that I was searching for anyhow, which shows a "net" of Germanium atoms on an ink blot.

Re:Oh... (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708166)

I followed your link to find the first line of the story:

In a major physics breakthrough with international significance.......

And thought it was strange that they were excited about doing something with 'international significance.' Whereas here in the states, I'm wishing fewer things happened with 'international significance.'

Re:Oh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709590)

two wars and collapsing the world economy isn't significant on an international scale?

Ok, that was a cheap shot, to be fair, Fermilab seems to be making more news than the LHC.

Re:Oh... (5, Informative)

zebadee (551743) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708184)

As another Otago researcher I attended a presentation by the lead researcher a couple of weeks ago. Although the science was cool his presentation style really sold the show and it’s a shame you can’t see him in action. What made me laugh was that he seemed most proud that he had proved his elementary school teacher was wrong. A fact that is also repeated in the article linked above.

Re:Oh... (1)

kimvette (919543) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708304)

Even better, with the megapixel races going on, every P&S made will soon be able to resolve down to the atomic level!

- - - if only lenses ever catch up to advances in sensors.

Re:Oh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708990)

If only his teacher had said "it's impossible to create jetpacks with real longevity", we would all have no need for stairs

Speed of sound (2, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709356)

FTFA: "Atoms usually move at the speed of sound, making them difficult to manipulate."

It's not quite as simple as that.

Sound [wikipedia.org] moves at the speed of sound, not atoms. Sound is a perturbation in the medium and is not always directly related with the speed of the particles. A simple experiment: bang a railroad rail with a hammer. The sound will travel at 6000 meters per second along the rail. Observe the rail: is it moving at 6000 m/s? I don't think so.

In a gas, [wikipedia.org] the statement about the typical speed of an atom being on the same order of magnitude as the speed of sound is correct, but the statement as written in the article is misleading.

Re:Speed of sound (1)

clone53421 (1310749) | more than 3 years ago | (#33712708)

Observe the rail: is it moving at 6000 m/s? I don't think so.

The atoms in a solid are constantly moving just like the atoms in a gas. The difference is that they primarily vibrate in-place rather than being able to freely move about.

Now whether or not their typical speed is also about the speed of sound ... that I do not know. But your statement was the equivalent of “The sound will travel at N meters per second through the gas. Observe the gas: is it moving at N m/s?”

Re:Oh... (1)

fishexe (168879) | more than 3 years ago | (#33718354)

I wanted to see a photograph of an atom.
The good news is I went and found it, the bad news is it's probably not as cool as I'd hoped...

Well, what did you expect a photograph of an atom to look like?

Re:Oh... (1)

euphemistic (1850880) | more than 3 years ago | (#33719314)

I'll admit, I kind of wanted to see a picture of a little mini galaxy type thing and have all my high-school textbook images of an (over-simplified) atom come to life.

I know, unrealistic, but that's what I was hoping for in my mind's eye.

Re:Oh... (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 3 years ago | (#33714922)

I have it on good authority that the photograph in question is not the wily Rubidium atom, but the lazy and commonplace Strontium atom. You can tell by the interference pattern.

['tis a joke, for the humor-impaired]

Only a country next to one founded by ex-convicts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33707706)

Would try to trap the very atoms of existence!

Can never be too sure about them Aussies, can we?

Re:Only a country next to one founded by ex-convic (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707768)

Soon they'll be trying to split the beer atom...

Method (2, Interesting)

cappp (1822388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707716)

The three-year project used laser cooling technology to slow a group of atoms, before a laser beam, or "optical tweezers", isolated and held one atom

Re:Method (0, Flamebait)

nacturation (646836) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708000)

Next time, could you just post the entire article so that we don't have to read multiple posts by people who choose to quote only one line at a time while adding no additional value?

Re:Method (0)

socsoc (1116769) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708300)

Next time could you read motherfucking TFA yourself? That's preferable to having to see replies from idiots denigrating other idiots who quoted random lines without additional value, without adding any of their own.

Re:Method (1)

cappp (1822388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708362)

Ouch. I posted the one line because I felt it added value, namely the actual method used that the summary neglected to include. I read 5 different articles covering the story and chose the most detailed one to slap up here - which points really to the scarcity of technical detail if nothing else. I'm sorry you don't like the contribution but claiming it adds no value is going a step too far.

Re:Method (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 3 years ago | (#33713960)

Ouch. I posted the one line because I felt it added value, namely the actual method used that the summary neglected to include. I read 5 different articles covering the story and chose the most detailed one to slap up here - which points really to the scarcity of technical detail if nothing else. I'm sorry you don't like the contribution but claiming it adds no value is going a step too far.

It would have been great had you included something along those lines. I tend to actually RTFA, so just slapping up a single line with no context around why you're quoting it doesn't add value for me. I know, it's not all about me but I can only speak for myself when sharing my opinion.

Re:Method (1)

cappp (1822388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33717564)

You're of course right and a little context would have been helpful, I should have spent the extra 20 seconds and thrown a sentance in there rather than relying solely on a one word title.

Incidentally, reading the article totally defeats the point - how are we supposed to work ourselves into a frenzy of anti-(somewhat tangentially related topic) if we bind ourselves with facts? For shame good sir, for shame.

Re:Method (1)

fishexe (168879) | more than 3 years ago | (#33718380)

Next time, could you just post the entire article so that we don't have to read multiple posts by people who choose to quote only one line at a time while adding no additional value?

Clearly, someone thought it had value. It got modded to (Score:3, Interesting).

Re:Method (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 3 years ago | (#33718402)

Clearly, someone thought it had value. It got modded to (Score:3, Interesting).

There's a ringing endorsement if I've ever seen one.

Re:Method (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708130)

The three-year project used laser cooling technology to slow a group of atoms, before a laser beam, or "optical tweezers", isolated and held one atom

Your a dumb cunt. That smells like tuna fish. And reposts single lines from articles.

Nigga, please!

Re:Method (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709158)

They can finally start working on that nanotech wing, one atom at a time.

I'm Uncertain (5, Funny)

Penguinshit (591885) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707748)

I'll believe it when I can see it (or determine its velocity).

Re:I'm Uncertain (2)

PDX (412820) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708812)

Well it looks like Maxwell's Demon is finally out of work. Worst recession in history. Even Demons can't keep their day jobs.

Re:I'm Uncertain (1, Offtopic)

ArcadeNut (85398) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708832)

Here is a video of it in action...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPkUvfL8T1I [youtube.com]

Is the photograph life size or something? (5, Funny)

countertrolling (1585477) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707764)

Because I couldn't see it..

Re:Is the photograph life size or something? (4, Funny)

grcumb (781340) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708030)

Because I couldn't see it..

Cool! It's a next-generation SPACER.GIF!!

I'm sending a memo to corporate right now:

"Beginning immediately, all references to SPACER.GIF on the toofuckinghipformymother.com website will be renamed to 'Rubidium85.GIF'. This use of quantum technologies and cutting-edge physics should improve performance by at least 134% and promises an ROI of 7 or more. We estimate that the transition can be completed by Q1 2012 using our existing development resources, or by Thursday if we replace the bonobo with a human."

Free the Rubidium 85!!! (3, Funny)

Required Snark (1702878) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708694)

The Rubidium 85 are being illegally restrained against their will, and the laws of nature!!! We must rise up and free our atomic comrades!!! Atom traps are cruel and unusual punishment!!!

Re:Is the photograph life size or something? (5, Informative)

pgn674 (995941) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708176)

Re:Is the photograph life size or something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708986)

It looks photoshopped.

Re:Is the photograph life size or something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33713608)

I find this [flickr.com] atom photo to be much more compelling. Also it was taken 5 years ago.

Re:Is the photograph life size or something? (2, Funny)

jamesh (87723) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708180)

I could see it, but I didn't know where it was.

Re:Is the photograph life size or something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33718264)

I could see it, but I couldn't tell where it was going .

There. Fixed that for you.

For the Australians out there.... (1)

Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707780)

Isolating and capturing an atom is easy - like herding sheep.

Re:For the Australians out there.... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708348)

Baaaaa.

And for the Midwesterners/Southwesterners... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33711070)

It’s pretty much like the calf-tying event [wikipedia.org].

Dammit, now I wanna see this... is there a video? The geek in me would have been satisfied with a picture, but the Midwesterner wants to watch everything go down. Including the rodeo clowns...

No More Secrets (0, Troll)

ysth (1368415) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707822)

These quantum computing fanatics don't seem to realize they are going to destroy the whole world when all existing encryption systems can be broken.

Re:No More Secrets (2, Interesting)

Kristopeit, Mike (1905452) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707906)

all existing encryption systems CAN already be broken... it just takes large amounts of time relative to the average life of the species doing the breaking.

don't worry about the quantum computing fanatics... they're working under the assumption that interlinks can be designed which add absolutely no latency. you don't seem to realize the possibility of accomplishing such a task.

Re:No More Secrets (1)

ysth (1368415) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707988)

I understand the resources that will be devoted to that task. I'm not optimistic about our chances for continuing privacy.

Not quite the best description of their work (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33707852)

What is important about this experiment is how often they can trap a single atom. Previous experiments have shown that creating a small trap volume and using atomic collisions allows for a 50% probability. (This is the regime our experiment is currently trying to work in) Their work showed that it is possible to exceed this using fairly simple techniques. There are also more complicated theoretical methods which various groups are trying to demonstrate as well. I believe they have reported >80% probability of loading a single atom into their trap. This increased probability is not completely necessary for scaling atomic quantum computers but will help. If they can achieve a probability close to 1 then this would help greatly. For instance with the old well established techniques I would make an array of 100 trapping sites but only expect to have 50 usable qubits loaded during any one experiment. This would now give us the ability to say we have more than 80 usable qubits for every experiment, which just helps scaling the quantum computer to useful sizes easier.

I would be quite surprised if this was the first time that single Rb 85 atoms had been trapped and imaged. We have been using single Rb 87 atoms in our experiments since about 2005 and other groups had been doing it before us. Switching to Rb 85 would take us about 15 minutes as the only required change is a frequency change of ~2 GHz for our two cooling lasers.

Rutherford Syndrome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709096)

Most New Zealanders believe that their fellow Kiwi Ernest Rutherford was the first person to "split the atom". This falsehood is repeated everywhere in NZ, including within many locally-produced school science text books. Almost nobody in NZ is aware of Rutherford's actual and very very cool discoveries...all they will repeat is that he was "the first person to split the atom!"... and proceed to burn you at the stake for suggesting otherwise.

Possibilities for energetic particles? (2, Interesting)

Ironchew (1069966) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707858)

This seemed to be geared toward quantum computing, but I was wondering if the same technique could isolate a significant mass of highly energetic matter, e.g. newly created antimatter? We've only been able to capture an almost negligible fraction of that so far.

Re:Possibilities for energetic particles? (3, Informative)

Interoperable (1651953) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708168)

The work is related to trapping single, neutral atoms efficiently. Trapping techniques for bulk quantities of charged particles tend to be simpler. Slowing down energetic particles is probably tough, but doesn't relate to this research.

Re:Possibilities for energetic particles? (1)

Ruie (30480) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708660)

This seemed to be geared toward quantum computing, but I was wondering if the same technique could isolate a significant mass of highly energetic matter, e.g. newly created antimatter? We've only been able to capture an almost negligible fraction of that so far.

This is not because it is hard to capture, but because it tends to annihilate upon contact with ordinary matter. So if you put it into a trap it will slowly vanish unless your vacuum is very pure.

Not to say it is not used - Tevatron [wikipedia.org] collides proton and antiproton beams, so not only it produces significant quantity of antimatter, but it is used as a consumable for researching something else (which is likely Higgs)

Obligatory joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33707912)

What does the proton say to the neutron?

It's a trap!

Re:Obligatory joke (1)

Drishmung (458368) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707920)

Neutron: Are you sure?

your turn...

Re:Obligatory joke (1)

nacturation (646836) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708020)

Neutron: Are you sure?
your turn...

Proton: I possess a charge greater than zero! Hey, electron... why do you look so sad?

Re:Obligatory joke (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708350)

electron: you fat pussy, i have the same charge and am not obese

Turns out much like James woods (4, Funny)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 3 years ago | (#33707958)

You can just lure the atoms into a t rap with a trail of candy.

Re:Turns out much like James woods (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708108)

Oh, a piece of candy.

Re:Turns out much like James woods (1)

stuckinphp (1598797) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708344)

Oh, a piece of candy.

This exact comment has already been posted. Try to be more original...

MiB (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708022)

Are the "University of Otago scientists'" real names Agent K and J, perchance?

Only a Rb atom? (2, Funny)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708026)

Do it with a Photon and I'll be impressed.

Re:Only a Rb atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708228)

Ok, I've got a photo here of photons. In fact, I've photographed millions of them!

Re:Only a Rb atom? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708388)

Bonus points for doing it with a penknife and ducttape, I take it?

Revisionist history? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708122)

“I learnt at elementary school that it is impossible to see a single atom through a microscope. Well, my elementary school teacher was wrong,” he says.

Actually, unless he also invented a time machine, his elementary school teacher was absolutely correct...

Reminds me of Jezzball (1)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 3 years ago | (#33708422)

Reminds me of an RL version of JezzBall - my, the Windows Entertainment Pack games were/are addictive little buggers. :)

Local TV story including video interview (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708434)

http://www.3news.co.nz/Kiwi-scientists-make-atomic-breakthrough/tabid/1160/articleID/178407/Default.aspx

YOUUUUUUU! (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708458)

You Shall Not Pass!

Nothing to see here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708902)

Similar work has been done in the groups of Dieter Meschede in Bonn and the group of Phillipe Grangier in Paris,
almost ten years ago. I'm not saying this isn't hard to do, but it's not science news.

Re:Nothing to see here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708930)

It has been done a lot. However, their work is significant because they've increased the chances of trapping a single atom from less than 50% to over 80%, which was thought to be impossible.

Oblig. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33708996)

"It's a trap!"
- Admiral Ackbar

In related news (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709198)

Local scientist and musician Yahoo Serious hopes to soon split the beer atom.

What a Great Aussie Breakthrough! (1)

CuteSteveJobs (1343851) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709238)

> New Zealand Scientists Make Atom-Trapping Breakthrough

As a proud loud Australian I claim Mikkel Andersen as Australia's favourite son! Come on over matey. I also claim "Lord of the Rings" as one of Australia's greatest movies and "Crowded House" as our greatest band (hey... nothing since the 80's sounds right anyway). And that Kiwi who discovered the relationship between steroids and lung activation that must have saved a million premature babies... we own him too.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/06/sir-graham-mont-liggins-obituary [guardian.co.uk]

Kiwis? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33709262)

Good to see Kiwis following in Rutherford's footsteps."

Hmm ...

Lead researcher Mikkel Andersen said ...

Yes ... "Kiwis" ...

Trying to understand this... (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 3 years ago | (#33709404)

So am I right in thinking the principle underlying this is to do things that reduce the probability the atom will be "kicked" someplace else? What confuses me here is if you're constraints are that strong in terms of uncertainty, surely you also have the same constraints (i.e. the system is almost "classical" if you're approaching a certainty of 1) in your qbits with respect to the usefulness of the quantum calculation you can perform? Did I miss something important here? (It wouldn't be the first time).

Re:Trying to understand this... (1)

ultracool (883965) | more than 3 years ago | (#33718386)

I'm not really sure what your question is, but I'll try to answer it! To make a quantum computer, you need a number of qubits. If you want to use atoms as qubits, you need to be able to repeatably trap, hold, and interrogate them over "long" timescales. If you could only trap a single atom 50% of the time, your computer would be very inefficient if you have, say, 30 qubits (ie. an array of 30 single atoms). By pushing this up to 83%, efficiency improves dramatically. Also, they can probably do better than 83% by improving their vacuum, but this would require taking their apparatus apart somewhat, and is not something people tend to do once they have a working setup!

Re:Trying to understand this... (1)

Burnhard (1031106) | more than 3 years ago | (#33720190)

I thought the point of a quantum computer was the superposition with all of the other qbits, not the fact that it's just an atom. What I was trying to understand was whether the "state" (which property of the atoms are you going to interrogate, or entangle with the other atoms) still has the same freedom to vary given you've almost nailed the property "position" to classical certainty (i.e. close to 1).

Re:Trying to understand this... (1)

ultracool (883965) | more than 3 years ago | (#33720336)

So this paper is about that very first step of actually making the qubits. One atom = one qubit. In this case, the "state" would likely be the atom's spin orientation. Spin and position are not connected by the Heisenberg uncertainty principle. Position and momentum are linked, as are energy and time.
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