When one atom first meets another, the precise nature of that interaction can determine much about what kinds of physical properties and behaviours will emerge.
In a paper published today in Nature Physics, a team led by U of T physicist Joseph Thywissen reported their discovery of a new set of rules related to one particular type of atomic-pair interaction. The researchers study interactions between atoms that have been cooled close to absolute zero.
“Ultracold atoms are the stem cells of materials science,” says Thywissen, a Professor of Physics at the University of Toronto and also a Fellow of the Quantum Materials program at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. “Just as a stem cell can become a fingernail or a heart cell depending on its context, ultracold atoms can become metals, insulators, superfluids or other types of materials.”
In collaboration with theorists Shizhong Zhang of Hong Kong University and Zhenhua Yu of Tsinghua University, the Toronto experimentalists have been studying “p-wave interactions.” The term “p-wave” refers to the degree to which two atoms twirl around one another – a phenomenon physicists refer to as “angular momentum.”
Researchers study these interactions in a highly controlled environment, coaxing a few hundred thousand gas atoms into a “trap,” and cooling them to about -273 Celsius.
The University of Hong Kong (informally known as HKU or Hong Kong University) is a public research university located in Pok Fu Lam, Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong.
Founded in 1911 during the British Colonial era, it is the oldest tertiary institution in Hong Kong. The university was originally established in order to compete with other Great Powers that had opened higher learning institutions in China at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Hong Kong College of Medicine for Chinese, established in 1887, evolved to be the medical faculty, one of its first three faculties alongside Arts and Engineering. Academic life at the university was disrupted by the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong; however, following the end of the Second World War, the university underwent expansion with the founding of further departments and faculties.
Today HKU has 10 faculties with international students comprising around 24% of the student population. It exhibits strength in scholarly research and teaching of humanities, law, political sciences, biological sciences and medicine. It was the first team in the world which successfully isolated the corona virus, the causative agent of SARS, and has the most Academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Engineering (15) of any institution of the territory. The language of instruction is English, except when learning a particular language is an objective of the course.
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