Directed Transport of Atoms in a Hamiltonian Quantum Ratchet

Science  27 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5957, pp. 1241-1243
DOI: 10.1126/science.1179546

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Classical ratchet potentials, which alternate a driving potential with periodic random dissipative motion, can account for the operation of biological motors. We demonstrate the operation of a quantum ratchet, which differs from classical ratchets in that dissipative processes are absent within the observation time of the system (Hamiltonian regime). An atomic rubidium Bose-Einstein condensate is exposed to a sawtooth-like optical lattice potential, whose amplitude is periodically modulated in time. The ratchet transport arises from broken spatiotemporal symmetries of the driven potential, resulting in a desymmetrization of transporting eigenstates (Floquet states). The full quantum character of the ratchet transport was demonstrated by the measured atomic current oscillating around a nonzero stationary value at longer observation times, resonances occurring at positions determined by the photon recoil, and dependence of the transport current on the initial phase of the driving potential.

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