Element: Ytterbium (Yb)
Atomic Number: 70
Mass: Seven “stable” isotopes, from 168 to 176 amu. Two of those are nominally radioactive, with half-lives vastly in excess of the age of the universe.
Laser cooling wavelength: 399 nm and 556 nm.
Doppler cooling limit: 690 μK in the UV and 4.4 μK in the green.
Chemical classification: A rare earth/ lanthanide, one of the hard to distinguish metals in the little island that floats off toward the bottom of the usual presentation of the periodic table, because it’s too hard to wedge them in between barium and hafnium. Yet another greyish metal.
Other properties of interest: Like strontium, ytterbium has a singlet ground state, with no angular momentum, but it does have hyperfine structure, so it’s possible to do some Sisyphus cooling. It’s got seven isotopes, including both bosons and fermions, and people have cooled both sorts to quantum degeneracy.
History: Ytterbium is a relative latecomer to the laser cooling world, probably because of the slightly annoying UV laser-cooling line– you need to use a collection of expensive lasers to make it work, so it wasn’t trapped until 1999. It probably wouldn’t be worth the bother if not for the fact that it has a pair of states that can serve as the basis for an atomic clock, at 578 nm. Ytterbium is attractive as a clock system because of the relatively friendly wavelength of the clock transition, and the fact that it’s pretty heavy, and thus slow-moving.
Both ytterbium ions and neutral atoms have been used in clock experiments, with a really impressive recent experiment managing a clock with instability at the 10-18 level, which is mind-boggling. You can do a bunch of exotic physics tests with it because of the big mass and the possibility of ultra-precise clock measurements. The artsy image in the center above is from Trey Porto’s group at JQI where they’re looking at mixtures of ytterbium and rubidium, which also have some fun potential uses.
Random fun things: I don’t actually know all that much about ytterbium, outside the context of cool AMO physics papers. It’s been used by Norval Fortson’s group, so I assume it must be incredibly noxious in some manner (I had dinner with a bunch of people from that group once; every substance they’ve ever worked with has horrible properties– highly corrosive, or toxic, or foul-smelling), but I don’t know the details.