New device brings artificial crystals and quantum computers closer to reality

Washington, Dec 17 : Physicists have created a device that can generate and trap huge numbers of elusive-yet-valuable ultra cold polar molecules, which would help to create exotic artificial crystals and stable quantum computers.

Called the Thin WIre electroStatic Trap, or TWIST, this device has been made from combining an atom-chiller with a molecule trap.

"The neat thing about this technology is that it's a very simple, but highly efficient method," said Jan Kleinert, a doctoral physics student at the University of Rochester and designer of the new device. "It lets us produce huge quantities of these ultracold polar molecules, which opens so many doors for us," she added.

The device is the first electrostatic polar molecule trap that works simultaneously with a magneto-optical atom trap. This means the lasers of the magneto-optical trap, or MOT, can be used to chill atoms to just a few millionths of a degree above absolute zero, then force the atoms to group into molecules, and instantaneously hold them in place with the electrostatic TWIST trap.

"Traditionally, a complex process of creating and trapping is required to produce these molecules, akin to repeatedly emptying and refilling the ice cube trays in your freezer," said Kleinert. "A MOT with a TWIST, however, can create and store the chilled molecules in one place, instantly-more like a refrigerator with an automatic icemaker," she added.

While polar molecules are literally as common as water, and dozens of laboratories around the world can cool atoms to such extreme temperatures, creating an ultracold polar molecule is difficult.

Ultracold atoms can combine into molecules, but since only one type of atom can usually be cooled at once, the molecules it makes are electrically symmetric, not polar. Physicists have to either chill regular polar molecules, or chill several types of atoms at the same time and force them to join into molecules.

Both processes are so complex that Kleinert says only four laboratories in the world do them, and the yield of ultracold polar molecules until now has been very low.

But, the TWIST makes the complex process much more efficient, and thus makes available many more of these molecules.

"The coldest molecules so far have been produced from MOTs, but until the TWIST came along, electric field trapping and MOTs just didn't go together," said Kleinert. "Now we can accumulate these polar molecules continuously, without switching from creation to storage and back again," she added.

"With a good supply of ultracold polar molecules, computer scientists would have a new tool with which to tackle the creation of quantum computers," said Kleinert.