Highly excited atoms, so-called Rydberg atoms, can be thousands of times larger than their ground-state counterparts. The large size results in exaggerated interaction properties that lead into direct applications in quantum computation and high-resolution spectroscopy. To harness the potential of Rydberg atoms, it is necessary to develop tools suitable to store them at well-defined positions.
Professor Georg Raithel and Physics Graduate Students Kelly Younge and Sarah Anderson are developing periodic, laser-induced crates, known as optical lattices, in which very highly excited atoms, so-called Rydberg atoms, can be trapped. The work marks the first time that two previously separate realms of atomic physics have been combined: spatial control of atoms in optical lattices and Rydberg-atom spectroscopy. Rydberg atoms demonstrate a unique behavior in optical lattices because their large size is of the same order as the optical-lattice periodicity. In the work, microwave spectroscopy is used to analyze the trajectories of Rydberg atoms in the laser-induced crates. Because atoms that are trapped in the lattice exhibit a distinct spectral signature, we are able to determine the lattice effectiveness as a trapping device. A theoretical model of the atoms in the optical lattice reproduces the microwave spectral features and confirms the presence of trapped Rydberg atoms.
The University of Michigan press release may be found here.