A View on Energy Transfer Between Cold Atoms

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Science  22 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6161, pp. 942-943
DOI: 10.1126/science.1247392

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Atoms with highly excited electrons—called Rydberg atoms—have many exaggerated properties compared with ordinary ground-state atoms. For example, the loosely bound electrons create large dipoles that lead to long-range interactions between Rydberg atoms that are many orders of magnitude stronger than those between ground-state atoms. Strong interactions between Rydberg atoms can enable energy transport over distances many times the size of the atoms (1). On page 954 of this issue (2), Günter et al. describe how they have nondestructively and continuously imaged resonant-energy transfer between cold 87Rb Rydberg atoms with controlled coupling to the environment. Their technique may enable the engineering of open quantum systems for quantum simulation (3), which could lend insight to the transition from classical to quantum energy transport in complex systems. The nature of this transition in a dissipative environment remains an open question and may have relevance to the efficiency of dipole-coupled energy transport in molecular systems such as photosynthetic light-harvesting complexes (4).