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Making Atoms Cold

While the superstar of the particle physics world, the Large Hadron Collider, gets all of the attention (and the glamor shots), there’s plenty of interesting science that can be done on the atomic level within an otherwise ordinary laboratory on the campus of an update New York university. Consider, for instance,the lab of Uncertain Principles‘ Chad Orzel, who has recently taken his readers on a four-part tour of his scientific specialty: making atoms extra cold. While the LHC sends protons whizzing through miles of underground beam pipes in order to more spectacularly crash them together, Chad deals in much lower-speed collisions. Through a combination of vacuum pumps and lasers, he slows atoms down to the equivalent of “something that scuttles under the fridge when you turn on the light.” It doesn’t take billions of dollars or an city-sized ring of multi-ton electromagnets to play with the fundamental forces of the universe, just a little focused light and a “doomsday device“.

What Do You Need to Make Cold Atoms? Part 1: Vacuum Hardware

Uncertain PrinciplesAugust 11, 2010

“There are a lot of different components that go into making a cold-atom experiment, so we’ll break this down by subsystems, starting with the most photogenic of them, the vacuum system.”

What Do You Need to Make Cold Atoms? Part 2: Lasers and Optics

Uncertain PrinciplesAugust 12, 2010

“The primary technique used for making cold atoms is laser cooling, and I’m sure it will come as no surprise that this requires lasers, and where there are lasers, there must also be optics.”

What Do You Need to Make Cold Atoms? Part 3: Test and Measurement

Uncertain PrinciplesAugust 13, 2010

“The third category in our look at lab apparatus, after vacuum hardware and lasers and optics is the huge collection of electronic gear that we use to control the experiments.”

What Do You Need to Make Cold Atoms? Appendix: “No-Laser” Methods

Uncertain PrinciplesAugust 16, 2010

“It’s possible, though, to make cold atoms without using laser cooling, using a number of techniques I described in two posts back in January.”