06-Aug-2020 - Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Atoms at the photo shoot

Scientists photographed, for the first time, individual atoms floating less than a thousandth of a millimeter above a light-conducting glass fiber

The first photograph of a single trapped atom represented a milestone for quantum research. This breakthrough was made possible because the atom was captured in a vacuum using electric fields and held far from surfaces whose scattered light could blind the camera.

Scientists at Humboldt University of Berlin (HU) and Technical University of Vienna (TU) have now succeeded for the first time in taking photos of individual atoms floating less than a thousandth of a millimeter above a light-conducting glass fiber. This allows effects such as the absorption and emission of light to be studied in the laboratory in a much more controlled way than before. In addition, the knowledge gained will help to develop components for a new generation of optical fiber networks.

About ten years ago, Prof. Dr. Arno Rauschenbeutel's research group realized for the first time a novel atom-light interface in which several thousand atoms are trapped in the vicinity of special glass fibers. These are so-called optical nanofibers, which are 100 times thinner than a human hair. The atoms are captured with tweezers created by laser light only 0.2 micrometers away from the glass fiber surface. At the same time, they are cooled with laser light to a temperature of about one millionth of a degree above absolute zero.

Despite these extreme conditions, the researchers have recently even been able to carry out experiments with single fiber-coupled atoms. They took photographs of the atoms and made short films of a few seconds duration. To do this, they used an ultra-sensitive camera and had to rigorously shield any ambient light. Thanks to the permanent cooling, the atoms remained so steady that the images could be exposed for almost half a second.

"Based on these results, we will be able to study the interaction of light and matter extremely precisely, atom by atom", says Dr. Philipp Schneeweiss, a member of Rauschenbeutel’s team. Possible applications of this research include more efficient light sources and photosensitive elements, using individual atoms as probes to study the properties of surfaces, and the optical processing of quantum information.

Facts, background information, dossiers
  • optical fibers
  • atoms
More about Humboldt Universität Berlin
  • News

    Printed perovskite LEDs

    A team of researchers from the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin has succeeded for the first time in producing light-emitting diodes (LEDs) from a hybrid perovskite semiconductor material using inkjet printing.This opens the door to broad application of these ... more

    Light-controlled molecules: Scientists develop new recycling strategy

    Robust plastics are composed of molecular building-blocks, held together by tough chemical linkages. Their cleavage is extremely difficult to achieve, rendering the recycling of these materials almost impossible. A research team from the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU) developed a molec ... more

    Photocatalyst system for plastics production

    A research team from Berlin has developed a novel catalyst system, which enables the regulation of multiple polymerization processes to produce biodegradable plastics solely by illumination with light of different colors.  The properties of a polymeric material are highly dependent on facto ... more

More about TU Wien
  • News

    New Materials: A Toggle Switch for Catalysis

    Electrochemistry is playing an increasingly important role: Whether it is fuel cells, electrolysis or chemical energy storage, chemical reactions controlled by electric current are used. The decisive factor in all these applications is that the reactions are as fast and efficient as possibl ... more

    Attention, the electron is too fast!

    It is very hard to take a photo of a hummingbird flapping its wings 50 times per second. The exposure time has to be much shorter than the characteristic time scale of the wing beat, otherwise you will only see a colorful blur. A very similar problem is encountered in solid-state physics, w ... more

    How can you perforate an atomic layer of material and leave the one underneath intact?

    Nobody can shoot a pistol bullet through a banana in such a way that the skin is perforated but the banana remains intact. However, on the level of individual atomic layers, such a feat has now been achieved - a nano-structuring method has been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), with which cert ... more

  • Videos

    Epoxy Resin

    A flash of ultraviolet light sets off a chain reaction which hardens the whole object. more

    Noreia

    The coating machine Noreia was built at TU Wien. This time-lapse video shows the construction process. more

    Shaping Drops: Control over Stiction and Wetting

    Some surfaces are wetted by water, others are water-repellent. TU Wien (Vienna), KU Leuven and the University of Zürich have discovered a robust surface whose adhesive and wetting properties can be switched using electricity. This remarkable result is featured on the cover of Nature magazin ... more