Los Alamos National Laboratory

Los Alamos National Laboratory

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Circuits of Atoms on Wires of Light

A new kind of circuitry—with electrons on conducting wires replaced by atoms on paths of laser light—is ushering in an era of “atomtronic” technology.
March 8, 2016
Artist visualization of atomic circuits

Los Alamos scientists have developed a reliable new way to create atomtronic circuits with waves of laser-guided atoms.

“It’s like fiber optics, but with the roles of matter and light reversed.”

For about two decades, physicists have struggled to invent a new kind of circuit in which ultracold atoms flow along controlled paths and interact in controlled ways. For some applications, including advanced sensor systems and quantum information processing (plus possible future applications that haven’t been developed yet), “atomtronic” circuits represent a vast improvement over existing optical and electronic circuits. However, routing atoms through specific paths—the way light is routed through fiber-optic cables and electrons are routed through conducting wires—has proven frustratingly difficult in practice.

Now, two Los Alamos scientists have successfully pioneered a reliable new approach. They constructed a tabletop system to guide coherent atoms on “wires” made of laser light that can be instantly and continuously reconfigured to trace out any circuit path—possibly ushering in a new era of atomtronic technology in the process.