Probing the properties of quantum matter; an experimental study in three parts using ultracold atoms

by P.C. Bons

Institution: Universiteit Utrecht
Year: 2015
Keywords: BEC; ultracold atoms; quantum matter; magnetism; symmetry breaking; refractive index
Record ID: 1254936
Full text PDF: http://dspace.library.uu.nl:8080/handle/1874/311316


The three experiments described in this thesis investigate fundamental properties of ultracold atoms. Using laser cooling and evaporative cooling, a dilute gas of sodium atoms is cooled to ~100 nK. Under these circumstances a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) forms, where millions of atoms collapse into the lowest energy state of the system and share a macroscopic wavefunction. The experiments are done in an ultrahigh vacuum and the atoms are manipulated remotely using laser beams, magnetic fields, and RF-fields. Using ultracold atoms allows unprecedented control over the internal and external degrees of freedom of the system, making it very suitable for precision measurements. Ultracold atoms also serve as a model system for more complicated or remote fields such as solid-state physics and cosmology. In the first experiment the refractive index of an ultracold bosonic gas is studied. The atomic clouds are analyzed for temperature and number of particles using nearly non-destructive phase-contrast imaging. After each pulse of probe light a small fraction of the atoms is lost, while the cloud is simultaneously slightly heated. This makes it possible to study the scattering rate as a function of temperature using only a single sample. It is observed that the scattering rate increases below the critical temperature for BEC by more than a factor of 3 compared to the classical value. This enhancement is in good agreement with the predictions by theoretical work that takes two-body correlation and the Lorentz-Lorenz correction into account. The method is also used to perform calorimetry on the Bose gas and directly measure the heat capacity of the BEC. The second chapter deals with magnetism in ultracold gases. When cooling an ultracold gas containing different spin components below the critical temperature for BEC, stable magnetic domains form. The appearance of these domains and the dynamics of the domain walls are studied. The spin mixture is prepared by performing an RF-sweep on ground state atoms in the presence of a magnetic field. Spin dynamics are induced by applying magnetic gradients. Spin drag, which is the transport coefficient responsible for damping spin currents, was measured in a two-component system. Furthermore a new method for spin resolved phase contrast imaging is presented, which is used to study time evolution in situ non-destructively. The last experiment focuses on spontaneous symmetry breaking. When passing a continuous phase transition, spontaneous symmetry breaking causes the development of domains with an independently chosen order parameter. The domains are separated by boundary defects. In this experiment the spontaneous creation of solitons was observed, which are boundary defects in the phase of the condensate, as well as magnetic domain walls, which are the boundary defects in the magnetization. Through the Kibble-Zurek mechanism it is possible to determine the critical exponents that characterize the phase transition. The critical exponents are predicted to be universal, i.e. do not…