SEP 14, 2020 10:06 AM PDT

Using a laser to cool a polyatomic molecule has never been done before - until now

Scientists from Harvard have devised a technique that allows them to slow down a polyatomic molecule using a laser. This method is the first to successfully use cryogenic technology and direct laser light to cool the nonlinear polyatomic molecule calcium monomethoxide (CaOCH3) to just above absolute zero. Their results, which have significant implications for quantum simulation, particle physics, and quantum chemistry, are published in the journal Science.

"When we started out on the project, we were optimistic but we were not sure that we would see something that would show a very dramatic effect," said Debayan Mitra, a postdoctoral researcher in Harvard's Doyle Research Group. "We thought that we would need more evidence to prove that we were actually cooling the molecule, but then when we saw the signal, it was like, 'Yeah, nobody will doubt that.' It was big and it was right there."

The moment occurred when the team got the molecule’s temperature (kinetic energy) to go from 22 millikelvins to about 1 millikelvin – meaning a mere few thousandths of a decimal above absolute zero.

The study was led by Mitra and graduate student Nathaniel B. Vilas. Mitra commented, "What we did here is sort of extending the state of the art. It's always been debated whether we would ever have technology that will be good enough to control complex molecules at the quantum level. This particular experiment is just a stepping stone."

This was the first documentation of manipulating a six-atom molecule, say the researchers. The process is exciting because it opens up new realms within the field of physics. "These kinds of molecules have a structure that is ubiquitous in chemical and biological systems," said senior author John M. Doyle, the Henry B. Silsbee Professor of Physics. "Controlling perfectly their quantum states is basic research that could shed light on fundamental quantum processes in these building blocks of nature."

The scientists are planning on trying to make the molecule even colder. They say that their findings prove that direct laser technology could be used to cool other polyatomic molecules to help advance quantum science.

Photo: Pixabay

Sources: Science, Eureka Alert

About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
You May Also Like
OCT 20, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
How to generate visible laser light on microchips
OCT 20, 2020
How to generate visible laser light on microchips
A new study reported in the journal Optica highlights the development of a microchip technology that can convert invisib ...
NOV 18, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
"CASH" system optimizes materials development with machine learning
NOV 18, 2020
"CASH" system optimizes materials development with machine learning
New research published in APL Material from scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology reports on the development o ...
DEC 04, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Fusions in Action: Scientists Confirm a Different Way the Sun Produces Energy
DEC 04, 2020
Fusions in Action: Scientists Confirm a Different Way the Sun Produces Energy
Since its formation, the Sun has been the main power source for all objects within its irradiation range, putting out 3. ...
JAN 03, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Cracking the structural code of nacre
JAN 03, 2021
Cracking the structural code of nacre
Researchers have finally figured out how nacre – also known as mother of pearl – forms its perfect structure ...
JAN 08, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Detecting tumors from the shear waves emitted by song
JAN 08, 2021
Detecting tumors from the shear waves emitted by song
Will a singing test be the way the doctors of the future monitor thyroid health? According to a collaboration of researc ...
JAN 11, 2021
Chemistry & Physics
Improving our understanding of aerosol nucleation
JAN 11, 2021
Improving our understanding of aerosol nucleation
New research published in Science Advances documents for the first time ever the early processes of aerosol formation. A ...
Loading Comments...