June 30, 2009

Scientists discover giant Rydberg atoms

U.S. physicists say they have discovered giant Rydberg atom molecules with a bond as large as a red blood cell.

The University of Oklahoma researchers led by Professor James Shaffer said determining how Rydberg molecules interact is important because Rydberg atoms are a key ingredient in atom based quantum computation schemes.

The scientists said giant Rydberg molecules are formed when two Rydberg atoms interact. A Rydberg atom is an atom that has at least one electron orbiting the nucleus at a very large distance. A giant molecule can form from two Rydberg atoms when they are in close proximity to one another because fluctuations of the electron orbiting the nucleus can create an electric field at the position of the other Rydberg atom and vice versa to attract the atoms to each other.

Shaffer said the discovery may move science closer to a new generation of quantum mechanical devices that meld the best properties of isolated atomic systems with advances in microelectronic fabrication and materials science.

The study appears in the July issue of the journal Nature Physics.