Scientists Create A Molecule By Combining Just Two Atoms

Posted: Apr 15 2018, 11:25am CDT | by , Updated: Apr 16 2018, 12:26am CDT , in Latest Science News


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Scientists Create a Molecule by Combining Just Two Atoms
Credit: Lee Liu and Yu Liu

The dipolar molecule holds great promise for quantum computing

Researchers from Harvard University have just made a major scientific breakthrough. For the first time, they have created a molecule by combining just two atoms. The result represents a level of precision that has never been achieved before.

A molecule is the smallest particle in an element or compound. Usually, molecules are made up of many atoms that are held together by chemical bonds. In the latest work, researchers have used laser and optical tweezers to capture two atoms and merged them to form a single molecule. The new dipolar molecule holds implications for quantum computing as it consists of a new type of qubit, the smallest unit of quantum information and could lead to more efficient devices.

“The direction of quantum information processing is one of the things we’re excited about. We need molecules for all different applications in our daily lives. However, the molecular space is so huge, we cannot sufficiently explore it with current computers,” said Kang-Kuen Ni, a professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard. “If we have quantum computers that could potentially solve complex problems and explore molecular space efficiently, the impact will be large.”

The remarkable achievement was made by a controlled reaction between two atoms, one sodium, and one cesium. Researchers used a laser to cool those atoms to over absolute zero, which is an extremely low temperature where new quantum phases beyond liquid, solid and gas emerge. The chemical reaction created a molecule.

“It’s true that for every reaction,” said Ni. “Atoms and molecules combine individually at the microscopic level. What we have done differently is to create more control over it. We grabbed two different species of individual atoms with optical tweezers and shine a pulse of the laser to bind them. The whole process is happening in an ultra-high vacuum, with very low air density.”

Previously, laboratories have created molecules by combining clusters of atoms. These kinds of experiments provide more insight into how molecules interact and how we can control their chemical reaction. The latest experiment is also part of this effort. It created a molecule with just two atoms, though it did not last long.

“This study was motivated by a few different things,” said Ni. “In general, we are interested in a fundamental study to see how physical interaction and chemical reaction contribute to making phenomena complex. We wanted to take the simplest case, the laws of quantum mechanics, which are the underlying laws of nature. Our quantum pieces will then build up to something more complex; that was the initial motivation. Certainly, the work is not finished, but this is one breakthrough step.”

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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