Stefan Kuhr Discusses Imaging Atomic Mott Insulators

Fast Breaking Papers Commentary, August 2011

Stefan Kuhr

Article: Single-atom-resolved fluorescence imaging of an atomic Mott insulator

Authors: Sherson, JF;Weitenberg, C;Endres, M;Cheneau, M;Bloch, I;Kuhr, S
Journal: NATURE, Volume: 467, Issue: 7311, Page: 68-U97, Year: SEP 2 2010
* Max Planck Inst Quantum Opt, Hans Kopfermann Str 1, D-85748 Garching, Germany.
* Max Planck Inst Quantum Opt, D-85748 Garching, Germany.
* Univ Munich, D-80799 Munich, Germany.

Stefan Kuhr talks with and answers a few questions about this month's Fast Breaking Paper paper in the field of Physics.

SW: Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

The new method and the results presented in our paper open the way to many exciting further studies and have triggered other experimental and theoretical work.

Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

Yes, we describe a new method to see strongly correlated atoms in optical lattices directly.

SW: Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

View/download the complete figure & description included in a press release titled: "Observing Quantum Particles in Perfect Order," from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics.

Ultracold atoms can be held in optical lattices—these are artificial crystals of light—and the atoms can behave like electrons in a real crystal. For the first time, we succeeded in observing such a system atom by atom, lattice site by lattice site. We saw that under certain conditions the atoms in the optical lattice arrange in a very regular distribution, with a fixed number of atoms per lattice site. This is important for using the atoms as quantum bits in future quantum computers.

SW: How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you've encountered along the way?

I have always been fascinated by quantum physics. In particular, my focus of interest during the last 10 years has been the manipulation of individual quantum objects—either atoms or photons. The possibility to see and manipulate the quantum particles individually in a strongly correlated system which consists of many hundreds of atoms has been a longstanding dream in the field; that's why I started this project in 2007.

The greatest challenge lies in the complexity of the experiment: bringing all the different components to function together requires a lot of experimental efforts. A particular challenge was the construction and setup of the high-resolution imaging system, which in this form has never been used before in a setup designed to trap ultracold atoms.

SW: Where do you see your research leading in the future?

We can use atoms in optical lattices as a quantum register with individually addressable quantum bits in future quantum computers.

They can also serve as a model for condensed matter systems and help us to understand their properties. Here, the atoms in the optical lattice play the role of the electrons in the solid state crystal. Investigations along these lines may lead to a deeper understanding of unusual magnetic and electric phenomena, e.g. high-Tc superconductivity, and may pave the way towards "tailor-made" exotic materials.End

Professor Stefan Kuhr
University of Strathclyde
Department of Physics
Glasgow, UK



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