PerspectivePhysics

New SQUID on the Bloch

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Science  16 Jan 2015:
Vol. 347, Issue 6219, pp. 232-233
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa4201

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Summary

Schrödinger's famous cat showed us that the matter waves inside an atom could manifest on macroscopic scales, but the real workhorse of the quantum world is the SQUID, or superconducting quantum interference device. This piece of technology is the key component of some hospital MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanners and other medical equipment because of its ability to detect tiny magnetic fields. On page 288 of this issue, Duca et al. (1) show that identical experimental principles can be used to detect the phases of the waves describing the motion of atoms in a periodic potential, known as Bloch states. Electrons moving in a crystal lattice are described by the same states, but although they are central to solid-state physics, their properties are usually inferred from other measurements—conductivity, for example. The study by Duca et al. provides a proof-of-principle demonstration of a new type of interferometry capable of providing much more detailed information than existing techniques.

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