Positioning atoms with lasers

June 19, 2001 | Source: Nature Science Update

An atomic conveyor belt/catapult that uses lasers to position individual atoms has been developed, researchers report in the June 15 issue of Science.

The German researchers use laser beams to retard fast-moving caesium atoms, which they hold in a trap of light and magnetic fields. The team then pulls these “cold” atoms out of the trap one at a time using two laser beams. They can stop an atom at any point and hold it in a stationary trough of a standing wave of light to position it to within one micron and over a one centimeter range.

The development may allow atoms to be arranged in straight chains or wires to make the smallest of electronic circuits — eventually, quantum supercomputers.