An Atomic View of Quantum Phase Transitions

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Science  30 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5991, pp. 523-524
DOI: 10.1126/science.1193401

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Although it is evident that strong interactions between particles can lead to the formation of quantum-mechanical phases such as high-temperature superconductivity, there are many gaps in our understanding of the underlying physics. Cold atoms trapped in optical lattices have emerged as an ideal model system for understanding the creation of these phases because the strength of the particle interactions can be smoothly tuned and complicating factors in solids such as disorder can be controlled. Although much progress has been made, new techniques are needed if these experiments are to reveal enough detail to verify theoretical models. On page 547 of this issue, Bakr et al. (1) used their “quantum gas microscope” (2) to image and study the dynamics of individual atoms as they transform between different quantum phases.