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Probing the Superfluid–to–Mott Insulator Transition at the Single-Atom Level

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Science  30 Jul 2010:
Vol. 329, Issue 5991, pp. 547-550
DOI: 10.1126/science.1192368

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From Superfluid to Mott Insulator

One of the most attractive characteristics of cold atomic gases in optical lattices is their ability to simulate condensed-matter systems. The results of these quantum simulations are usually averaged over the atomic ensemble, or course-grained over several lattice sites. Now, Bakr et al. (p. 547, published online 17 June; see the Perspective by DeMarco) provide a single lattice site view onto the transition of a Bose gas of Rb-87 from the superfluid to the Mott-insulating state. Characteristic concentric shells of uniform number density were observed deep in the Mott insulator regime, and probing the local quantum dynamics revealed unexpectedly short time scales. The low-defect Mott structures identified may provide a starting point for quantum magnetism experiments.