In a major milestone for quantum-physics , thousands of molecules are induced to share an same quantum state, dancing together in unison like one huge super molecule.
This is a goal long-sought by physicists, who hope to harness complex quantum systems for technological applications – but getting a bunch of unruly molecules to figure together is on an issue par with herding cats.
“People are trying to try to to this for many years , so we’re very excited,” said physicist Cheng Chin from the University of Chicago.
“I hope this will open new fields in many-body quantum chemistry. There’s evidence that there are tons of discoveries waiting out there.”
The concept of the many particles acting together together big particle – sharing their quantum states – isn’t a latest one. We’ve achieved it and experimented with it for many years with clouds of single atoms in a state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate.
These are formed from atoms cooled to only a fraction above absolute zero temp. This causes them to sink to their lowest-energy state, moving extremely slowly in order that their energy differences disappear, leading them to overlap in quantum superposition.
The result’s a high-density cloud of atoms that acts like one ‘super atom‘ or matter wave.
Molecules, however, are made from multiple atoms bound together, and thus are lot more harder to tame during this way.
“Atoms are simple spherical objects, whereas molecules can vibrate, rotate, carry small magnets,” Chin explained. “Because molecules can do numerous various things , it makes them more useful, and at same time much harder to control.”
To create their molecular Bose-Einstein condensate, the team, led by physicist Zhendong Zhang from the University of Chicago, started with an atomic Bose-Einstein condensate, employing a gas of 60,000 cesium atoms.
Next, they cooled the condensate even further and ramped the magnetic flux in order that around 15% of the cesium atoms collided and bound together in pairs to make dicesium molecules. The unbound atoms were ejected from the trap, and a magnetic flux gradient was applied to levitate and constrain the remaining molecules during a two-dimensional configuration.
“Typically, molecules want to maneuver in all directions, and if you permit that, they’re much less stable,” Chin said. “We confined the molecules in order that they’re on a 2D surface and may only move in two directions.”
The resulting gas was made from molecules that the scientists found were all occupying an same quantum state, with same spins, orientation, and vibration.
We’re yet to explore what a molecular Bose-Einstein condensate can do – but this is often a big step therein direction, providing an empty canvas for future experiments.
Not only for the molecular condensate itself, either, except for the transition between atomic and molecular Bose-Einstein condensates. Exploring how this works will help scientists streamline the method , so we will develop condensates with other molecules which will be easier to take care of or more efficient for various technological applications.
“In normal way to think-about chemistry, you think that a few few atoms and molecules colliding and forming new molecule,” Chin said.
“But within the quantum regime, all molecules act together, in collective behavior. This opens an entire new thanks to explore how molecules can all react together to become new type of molecule.”
This research has been published on nature