Max Planck captures super atom interactions with EMCCD camera

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A team of physicists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics is gaining unique insights into the nature of solid materials by monitoring the behaviour of quasi-crystalline 'super atoms' created inside a giant, room-sized Quantum Simulator, capturing the interactions with an Andor iXon 897 EMCCD camera.

Within the Quantum Simulator, which took four years to build, the scientists create the quasi crystals by constraining rubidium atoms in optical lattices and exciting them to high-lying, long-range interacting atomic states. The resulting 'super atom' creations obey the laws of quantum physics and are arranged simultaneously into different configurations, as if a single crystal would be graphite and diamond at the same time. Although this contradicts everyday reality, such superimpositions are allowed in quantum matter.

"It is impossible to track the movement of individual electrons in a real solid, but quantum physics enables scientists to approach areas of science that at first glance may seem undefinable or defy our understanding entirely," according to Dr Immanuel Bloch, Director at the Institute. "The Quantum simulator enables the study of solid-state like systems on the single-particle level, as if one could image individual electrons in a solid. However, acquiring images of the atoms in the quasi crystals demands a detector with exceptional sensitivity and we chose the Andor iXon 897 EMCCD camera.

"When the individual atoms are pinned in the optical lattice, we illuminate with near-resonant light. This starts them fluorescing, acting as very small point sources at typical inter-condensate distances of 532 nm in our setup. Because the iXon EMCCD camera is capable of collecting the few thousand scattered photons per atom, we clearly discern individual atoms.

"Observing how our crystal metamaterials form in the simulator is advancing our understanding of how these processes are driven in the real world. It also facilitates completely new science, for instance in quantum computing, because we establish the parallel existence of different quantum states. It is possible, in principle, to test simultaneously all the possible solutions to a problem and our simulator already allows us to observe quantum behaviour that is beyond the capabilities of the world's most powerful supercomputers."

"The single photon detection capability of the iXon 897 is ideally suited to observing the formation of these metamaterials, "says Colin Duncan of Andor. "Combined with greater than 90% QE and TE cooling to -100°C, the back-illuminated sensor allows for maximum possible photon collection efficiency and extreme sensitivity, allowing clear imaging of the individual atoms in the crystal formations during the experiment."