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Shining Light on Excited Atoms


Dr Shannon Whitlock

Physics Institute, University of Heidelberg, Germany

3:30 pm Thursday, 5 September 2013, EN101, EN Building, Hawthorn.


The interaction of many simple elements, each obeying basic rules, often produces remarkably rich and complex new behaviour. Highly-excited atoms cooled to near absolute zero temperature, called ultracold Rydberg atoms, have very extreme properties which give rise to completely new physical effects. In particular, because of the weak binding of the outer electron to the nucleus, Rydberg atoms react very sensitively to external fields, and experience extremely strong interactions amongst one another, even over macroscopic length scales. In an ensemble of atoms, these interactions prevent more than one Rydberg atom to be excited at a time, leading to the emergence of strong spatial and temporal quantum correlations.

By interfacing laser light with Rydberg atoms, we can produce new hybrid states of atoms and photons and engineer synthetic systems for studying complex many-body effects with total control over the microscopic and macroscopic degrees of freedom. With this it is possible to manipulate the properties of atoms and light at the quantum level and watch a many-body quantum system evolve under the influence of long-range interactions and in a controlled environment.

In this lecture I will provide an overview of the physics of strongly-coupled Rydberg gases, focusing on some of the latest results from Heidelberg.

Back to 2013 programme