Research NewsPhysics

Giant Atoms Cast Long Shadow

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Science  19 Jul 1996:
Vol. 273, Issue 5273, pp. 307-309
DOI: 10.1126/science.273.5273.307


A whole community of physicists is under the spell of the oversized atoms called Rydberg atoms. Created when one or sometimes two of their electrons is excited to very high energy levels, far from the nuclear core, Rydberg atoms can detect subtle electric fields and probe chemical reactions that ordinarily proceed too fast for study. And because their outermost electrons sometimes orbit the nucleus like planets orbiting the sun—a behavior reminiscent of classical physics, not the quantum physics of the atom—physicists are using Rydberg atoms to study the border between the quantum and classical worlds.