The MOTion trap: Ultracold molecular ions

Without question, the atom has been tamed. With modern AMO techniques it is possible to completely control and manipulate atoms at the quantum level. The same cannot be said, however, of even the simplest molecule, e.g. diatomic molecules made of just two atoms. Because of the extra complexity that comes with a molecular bond -- rotation and vibration of the molecule – molecules have evaded all but a few attempts to domesticate them. Nonetheless, it is expected that if and when molecules are brought under control they will enable a scientific revolution that parallels what transpired when atoms were brought under control, with implications ranging from quantum computation to material science. At UCLA we are developing a new method that uses ultracold atoms as “ice cubes” to cool trapped molecular ions into their quantum ground state. Simply put, by spatially overlapping a cloud of ultracold, laser-cooled atoms in a magneto-optical trap (MOT) with a molecular ion trap, we have shown that it is possible to quickly cool both the internal and external degrees of freedom of the molecular ion. The technique promises to be robust and simple since it requires only an ion trap and ultracold atom trapping – both proven technologies.

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