Is it possible to manipulate atoms in gases and to control their interaction? If so, are there new physical effects one can obtain?
Although apparently simple, these questions are engaging some of the most advanced research labs as well as several important groups of theoretical physicists in the world. In recent months, some experiments with dilute and ultra cold gases (with temperatures close to absolute zero) have shown that the atoms of Erbium and Dysprosium can help us to give an answer. By exploiting their magnetic properties, it has been observed that these elements are capable of interacting at large distances (from 50 to 100 nanometers) by attracting or rejecting. Surprisingly, interactions in play assemble the atoms in filaments that remain stable for an
extremely long time.
Starting from these observations, an international collaboration consisting of four Italian scientists belonging to different institutions (INO-CNR, University of Padua, Stellenbosch University and Federal University of
Rio Grande do Norte) has studied and understood the mechanisms that govern the physics of these new fascinating macro structures. Being exquisitely quantum objects, these filaments show peculiar effects such as the absence of viscosity (superfluity) at finite temperature.
By also using advanced numerical methods, the team has also obtained a phase diagram that shows other interesting states (homogeneous superfluids and atomic bunches) by simply modifying the strength of the interaction between the atoms, thus becoming an important guide to the next experiments on other chemical elements.
The theoretical study has been recently published in the prestigious scientific journal “Physical Review Letters”.
Certainly, this study is an important step towards the definitive answer to the initial questions. Such responses will give man the opportunity to control with precision the bricks of which he is composed of matter, thus opening the way for new possible technological revolutions.
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