Observing the Dynamics of Dipole-Mediated Energy Transport by Interaction-Enhanced Imaging

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Science  22 Nov 2013:
Vol. 342, Issue 6161, pp. 954-956
DOI: 10.1126/science.1244843

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Imaging Excitations

Complex processes such as chemical reactions and photosynthesis involve the transport of energy. The mechanisms of how the energy migrates, the influence of the surrounding environment, or the extent to which quantum mechanics affects the process remain unclear. Günter et al. (p. 954, published online 7 November; see the Perspective by Donley) found that a cloud of cold atoms suitably prepared and decorated with “impurity” Rydberg atoms could be used to image the transport of excitations between excited Rydberg atoms directly. This ability to tune the influence of the background environment may help in the study of the coherent transport of energy in complex many-body systems.


Electronically highly excited (Rydberg) atoms experience quantum state–changing interactions similar to Förster processes found in complex molecules, offering a model system to study the nature of dipole-mediated energy transport under the influence of a controlled environment. We demonstrate a nondestructive imaging method to monitor the migration of electronic excitations with high time and spatial resolution, using electromagnetically induced transparency on a background gas acting as an amplifier. The continuous spatial projection of the electronic quantum state under observation determines the many-body dynamics of the energy transport.

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