Quantum computing: Strings of ultracold atoms reveal the surprising behavior of quantum particles

New research from MIT has now shed some light on the obscure laws that govern the smallest of particles, which could pave the way for further developments in the design of quantum devices that rely on atomic spin.

The team exposed spinning lithium atoms to magnetic forces of different strengths to observe how the quantum particles reacted both individually and as a group.

Spin, like mass or charge, is an intrinsic property of atoms: the particles rotate around an axis in either a clockwise manner (often described as "down") or anticlockwise ("up").

To study the phenomenon, Ketterle's team brought the lithium atoms down to temperatures more than ten times colder than interstellar space, which freezes the particles to a near standstill and enables easier observation.

Pulsed magnetic forces of different strengths were then applied to the lattice, causing each atom along the string to tilt its spin in a wavelike manner.

The researchers were able to image those wave patterns on a detector, and watched how the atoms gradually evolved from dynamic behavior to equilibrium, depending on the nature of the magnetic field that they were exposed to.

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