Strongly Interacting Rydberg Excitations of a Cold Atomic Gas

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Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 887-889
DOI: 10.1126/science.1217901

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Ultimate Blockade

A Rydberg atom has an electron in a highly excited energy state, close to being set free, but not quite. Ensembles of such atoms interact strongly, sometimes leading to blockade effects where the excitation of one atom prevents the excitation of another. Dudin and Kuzmich (p. 887, published online 19 April; see the Perspective by Grangier) demonstrate the generation of a many-body excitation with no more than one Rydberg atom in a mesoscopic ensemble of ultracold atoms. When the principal quantum number was increased beyond 70, the excitation was converted into a photon. The ability to control the creation of excitations provides a promising system for quantum information storage, as well as a source of correlated photons.


Highly excited Rydberg atoms have many exaggerated properties. In particular, the interaction strength between such atoms can be varied over an enormous range. In a mesoscopic ensemble, such strong, long-range interactions can be used for fast preparation of desired many-particle states. We generated Rydberg excitations in an ultra-cold atomic gas and subsequently converted them into light. As the principal quantum number n was increased beyond ∼70, no more than a single excitation was retrieved from the entire mesoscopic ensemble of atoms. These results hold promise for studies of dynamics and disorder in many-body systems with tunable interactions and for scalable quantum information networks.

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