Quantum gas microscopy of Rydberg macrodimers

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Science  17 May 2019:
Vol. 364, Issue 6441, pp. 664-667
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw4150

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Bonding's outer limit

In a Rydberg state, an atom has been very nearly, but not quite, ionized. This puts the electron relatively far from the nucleus, and two atoms in such a state can thus form a rather long-range bond. Hollerith et al. observed this phenomenon in fine detail by exciting pairs of ultracold rubidium atoms along the diagonal of an optical lattice. The authors resolved the vibrational state structure spectroscopically and showed that the Rydberg dimers manifested bond lengths exceeding 700 nanometers.

Science, this issue p. 664


The subnanoscale size of typical diatomic molecules hinders direct optical access to their constituents. Rydberg macrodimers—bound states of two highly excited Rydberg atoms—feature interatomic distances easily exceeding optical wavelengths. We report the direct microscopic observation and detailed characterization of such molecules in a gas of ultracold rubidium atoms in an optical lattice. The bond length of about 0.7 micrometers, comparable to the size of small bacteria, matches the diagonal distance of the lattice. By exciting pairs in the initial two-dimensional atom array, we resolved more than 50 vibrational resonances. Using our spatially resolved detection, we observed the macrodimers by correlated atom loss and demonstrated control of the molecular alignment by the choice of the vibrational state. Our results allow for rigorous testing of Rydberg interaction potentials and highlight the potential of quantum gas microscopy for molecular physics.

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