Before going further, what is an "atomic mirror"? As its name implies, it reflects atoms instead of light. In this article, NewsFactor Network tells us that Cal Tech researchers have fabricated such a mirror using an old Apple disk drive.
"An atom mirror is a device that reflects impinging atoms in an analogous manner to the way a regular optical mirror reflects an incoming light beam," said Cal Tech quantum-optics researcher Benjamin Lev. "The difference between the optical mirror and the atom mirror is that ... to reflect photons one only needs a suitable metallic surface, [but] to reflect atoms one needs to create some sort of repulsive force for the atoms as they near the surface."
The Cal Tech research team "fabricated a magnetic mirror by etching a common hard drive, and used this mirror to reflect a cold cloud of cesium atoms," wrote lead researcher Hideo Mabuchi.
The common hard drive, Mabuchi explained, has several features that make it the perfect raw material for atomic mirror makers -- a large, flat, magnetic surface; smooth contours; and rigid construction.
Here is how the etched hard drive looks like.
But what can we do with such a thing?
The "atomic mirror" ultimately may help engineers create atomic lasers, ushering in new telecommunications technologies based on atoms rather than photons, and atomic -- not electronic -- signals.
Atomic optics may find application in another burgeoning tech field that remains in early infancy -- quantum-computer science. "One exciting prospect is to use the atom mirror, combined with electric fields, to perform quantum logic gates necessary for building a quantum computer."
You'll find more details, including a movie and a research paper at Benjamin Lev's Atom Mirror page.
Source: Mike Martin, NewsFactor Network, June 23, 2003
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