A New Field Of Physics: Non-Linear Atom Optics

Atoms can display unusual properties previously seen only with high-intensity laser light waves, say scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg, Md. Using sodium atoms cooled to very near absolute zero, the NIST team demonstrated that three atom waves can be mixed to produce a fourth, in exactly the same way as optical laser beams can be combined to form a new laser light beam. Performed in a vacuum, the experiments suggest that the new field of nonlinear atom optics will parallel the development of nonlinear optics, which emerged with the discovery of the strange, unique, and unexpected abilities of the first laser in 1960, say researchers. "We are at the threshold of a new area of research: nonlinear atom optics," says Nobel Laureate William D. Phillips, leader of the NIST Laser Cooling and Trapping Group.

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