3D printing helps miniaturize ultra-cold quantum experiments


Find some In the coldest object in the universe, you don’t have to go further than your local university. There, physicists may be using lasers and magnets to cool atoms to an astonishing degree below 450 degrees Fahrenheit. They may use these ultra-cold atoms to sense the weakest magnetic field in the room, or build a clock accurate to one trillionth of a second. But they may not be able to take these sensors or clocks out of the laboratory because they are often large and fragile.

Now, a team of physicists at the University of Nottingham has demonstrated that the 3D printed parts used in these ultra-cold quantum experiments allow them to shrink the device to a third of its usual size.Their work is published in the journal Physical Review X Quantum In August, the door can be opened for a faster and more convenient way to make smaller, more stable, and customized settings for experiments.

Because they obey the rules of quantum mechanics, extremely cold atoms exhibit new and useful behaviors. “Ultra-cold atoms are a key technology that can be used in many different precision instruments,” said John Kitching, a physicist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, who was not involved in the research.

“Ultra-cold atoms are excellent time sensors. They are excellent sensors of what we call inertial forces, so acceleration and rotation. They are excellent magnetic field sensors. They are excellent vacuum sensors,” his colleague Stephen · Stephen Eckel added that he was not involved in this work either.

Therefore, physicists have been trying to use ultra-cold atomic devices in various environments for a long time. Universe exploration, They can help navigation by sensing changes in vehicle acceleration, to hydrology, they can accurately locate groundwater by detecting gravity on the ground. However, the process of getting atoms cold enough to take on any of these tasks is often complicated and arduous. “As a cold atom experimenter, I have always been frustrated because we spend all our time solving technical problems,” said Nathan Cooper, a physicist at the University of Nottingham and one of the co-authors of the study.

The key to cooling and controlling the atoms is to irradiate them with a fine-tuned laser.Warm atoms fly around at hundreds of miles per hour, and Extremely cold atom Almost motionlessPhysicists make sure that every time a laser beam hits a warm atom, the light hits it in this way, causing the atom to lose some energy, slow down and become colder. Usually, they work on a 5 x 8 foot table, covered with a labyrinth of mirrors and lenses (optical elements), when light hits millions of atoms (usually rubidium or sodium), they will To guide and manipulate light, these atoms are stored in a special ultra-high vacuum chamber. To control the position of all the ultra-cold atoms in this room, physicists use magnets; their fields are like fences.

These experimental devices are small compared to miles of particle accelerators or large telescopes. However, they are too large and too fragile to be a commercial device for use outside of academic laboratories. Physicists often spend months aligning every small element in their optical maze. Even slight shaking of the mirror and lens-which is likely to happen on site-will mean serious work delays. “What we want to try and do is to build something that can be made quickly and is expected to run reliably,” Cooper said. Therefore, he and his collaborators turned to 3D printing.

The Nottingham team’s experiment did not take up the entire table—it has a volume of 0.15 cubic meters, which is slightly larger than a stack of 10 large pizza boxes. “It’s very, very small. Compared to the traditional setup, we reduced the size by about 70%,” said Somaya Madkhaly, a graduate student in Nottingham and the first author of the study. To build it, she and her colleagues participated in a very customizable Lego game. Instead of buying parts, they assemble their set up with 3D printed blocks that exactly fit the shape they want.


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