In recent years the study of ultra-cold atomic gases has been one of the most flourishing fields in the international scientific scene. This is because the modern techniques of laser cooling and magnetic and optical trapping have made it possible to reach temperatures close to absolute zero in very dilute atomic samples. At such temperatures, the wave-like behaviour of matter clearly emerges and we can observe fascinating phenomena such as the Bose-Einstein condensation.
Our Magneto-Optical trap of Rb atoms. The temperature of the atomic cloud in this picture is only ~0.0001 degrees above the absolute zero.
The theoretical prediction of condensation dates back to 1925 when Bose and Einstein demonstrated that in a gas of identical non-interacting bosons, under a certain critical temperature, all the particles collapse into the same quantum state forming a new state of matter: the Bose-Einstein condensate, which has been first realized experimentally in 1995. Since then, this macroscopic object in which the undulatory character of matter can be easily observed has provided the Physics community with a new powerful tool for the investigation of the quantum properties of matter.
In the Ultracold Quantum Gases group we are able to produce Bose-Einstein condensates of Rb and ultracold mixtures of Rb and K atoms. We exploit the extraordinary properties of these exotic objects to study fascinating phenomena like the superfluidity, transport in non-linear media and the quantum magnetism.
One of the biggest challenges in modern Physics is the control, engineering and understanding of complex quantum systems. The main problem is represented by the fact that computation of large quantum systems can be practically impossible since the amount of resources necessary scales exponentially with the size of the system. A possible solution to this problem was given by Richard Feynman: to build a quantum simulator, i.e., a quantum machine that can reproduce, in a controlled environment, the quantum system under investigation. Indeed such a machine, being quantum by design, can handle an exponentially large amount of information without requesting an exponentially large amount of resources.
In the Ultracold Quantum gases group we are aiming at realizing Feynman's vision by using the high degree of control over our cold atoms to implement a quantum simulator. By using advanced techniques like the use of spatial light modulators and the control of inter-atomic interactions, we are able to implement a synthetic version of different systems, ranging from the photosynthesis process in biology to solid state devices like graphene and even neutron stars!
Dr Giovanni Barontini - contact