Cool Lasers: Nearing Absolute Zero, Researchers Use Clever New Method to Chill Membrane to Shockingly Low Temperatures.


A team of researchers says they have developed a new technique that allows them to cool a small membrane to temperatures nearing absolute zero, the theoretically lowest temperature attainable, with nothing more than light from lasers.

For centuries, it has been understood that the reflection of light off the surface of objects produces a force. Such observations led astronomer Johannes Kepler to first envision the concept of solar sails which, like the sails that capture wind and propel boats across the ocean, could drive futuristic sailing vessels through space.

Such ideas helped early astronomers understand why the appearances of comets always revealed them to be oriented with their tails in the direction opposite of the Sun. Today, scientists are employing the light force in novel ways that allow atoms and other particles to be slowed down and thus cooled.

The results of such technology could enable innovative new applications that include sensors that possess unparalleled sensitivity. However, cooling particles down to such extreme temperatures, such as those nearing absolute zero, isn’t a simple task, and generally requires an array of specialized equipment.

Enter Professor Philipp Treutlein of the University of Basel, along with Dr. Patrick Potts, whose team has succeeded at producing a new process that allows a wafer-thin membrane to be cooled to such extremely cold temperatures—close to 273.15 Celsius—with nothing but laser light.

In the past, Professor Treutlein worked alongside Theodor W. Hänsch in his lab at LMU Munich and the Max-Planck-Institute of Quantum Optics, initially working as a doctoral student in Jakob Reichel’s team. Treutlein eventually went on to lead a team of his own, which undertook studies with ultracold atoms, primarily in what are known as “atom chips”, consisting of chip-based microtraps.

Through their studies, Terutlein and his team were able to demonstrate a chip-based atomic clock, as…

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