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Rydberg Molecule Created For the First Time 127

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the not-around-long-enough-for-a-group-photo dept.
krou writes "The BBC is reporting that the Rydberg molecule has been formed from two atoms of rubidium. Proven in theory, this is the first time it's been created, reinforcing the fundamental quantum theories of Enrico Fermi. Chris Greene, the theoretical physicist who first predicted that the Rydberg molecules could exist, said: 'The Rydberg electron resembles a sheepdog that keeps its flock together by roaming speedily to the outermost periphery of the flock, and nudging back towards the centre any member that might begin to drift away.' It's a sheepdog with a very short life-span, however; the longest lived molecule only lasted 18 microseconds. Vera Bendkowsky, who led the research, explained how they created the molecule: 'The nuclei of the atoms have to be at the correct distance from each other for the electron fields to find each other and interact. We use an ultracold cloud of rubidium — as you cool it, the atoms in the gas move closer together. We excite the atoms to the Rydberg stage with a laser. If we have a gas at the critical density, with two atoms at the correct distance that are able to form the molecule, and we excite one to the Rydberg state, then we can form a molecule.'"
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Rydberg Molecule Created For the First Time

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  • by mrslacker (1122161) on Friday April 24, 2009 @01:33PM (#27704117)

    'Nuff said.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by lintocs (723324)
      So, will this result in the elimination of pattern baldness, or just "natural male enhancement"?
      • No, there's no possibility of baldness treatments or cancer cures this time; however, Scientists Say the New Discovery Could Result in the Creation of Faster Microprocessors(tm).

        (What, they didn't say that this time? Somebody in the university's PR department must've dropped the ball.)

  • They really are short lived. 18 seconds would be an eternity for them, apparently.

    (So, the summary here presently says "the longest lived molecule only lasted 18 seconds." whereas the article says "the longest lived Rydberg molecule survives for just 18 microseconds." Rather large difference.)

    • by iluvcapra (782887) on Friday April 24, 2009 @01:36PM (#27704179)

      What's seven orders of magnitude between friends?

      18 microseconds here, 18 microseconds there, before you know it, we're going to be wasting a lot of time!

      ...Here all week, veal, etc.

      • by mrslacker (1122161) on Friday April 24, 2009 @01:44PM (#27704303)

        > What's seven orders of magnitude between friends?

        Still out by an order of magnitude ;-)

        Anyway, "very short" (as the original article says) in the context of particle physics has often meant measurements of the order of nanoseconds (say, nuclear bomb testing measurements) or even much much small for big bang (Planck time, etc).

        • by sarahbau (692647)

          Yeah. When I read the summary's "18 seconds," I was thinking that it was an extremely long time for something like this.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Noren (605012)
          Well, but this is a chemical experiment, though the physics aspects are certainly interesting. Of course, all chemistry is physics but not all physics is chemistry.

          18 microseconds is on the short lived side for chemistry. On the other hand, The time that it takes a chemical bond to form or break is typically measured in femtoseconds, so this is long enough to demonstrate that it lasts several orders of magnitude longer than just a random chance approach of unbonded atoms.
        • by Gerzel (240421) *

          Well its that last order that pisses him off.

          Seven orders is ok but the eighth and you're off my friends list.

        • by iluvcapra (782887)

          Still out by an order of magnitude ;-)

          Sigh. Strange that a million of something is e7, but a millionth of something is e-8. European number system fail.

          • by Thowllly (529311)

            Sigh. Strange that a million of something is e7, but a millionth of something is e-8. European number system fail.

            You were off by one the other way, one microsecond is e-6. And a million of something is e6, not e7, just as a millionth of something is e-6.

      • by Facegarden (967477) on Friday April 24, 2009 @02:33PM (#27704901)

        What's seven orders of magnitude between friends?...

        That's what I always tell the ladies. I mean, 10 inches, 10 micro inches... same thing right? Right...?
        -Taylor

        • That depends on which side of the gun you are my friend...
          • No. I think in this case 10 microinches won't make a difference if you are the giver or the taker. No one's going to notice a damn thing. As long as you keep her drunk she won't spread rumors the next day. Or if you're drunk you can say you fell asleep before.. uh. Well you get the idea.
            • if YOU get a 10 microinch penis and say it doesn't make a difference I won't argue with that! :-)
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Pearlswine (1121125)
      I bet the submitter used the micro [wikipedia.org] symbol. For some reason that symbol disappears when the story is either submitted or reaches the main page. I couldn't even copy/paste it into this comment
      • by lgw (121541) on Friday April 24, 2009 @02:00PM (#27704533) Journal

        The bundle of perl scipts known as Slashcode don't support UTF8 text, or really anything beyone 1960s ASCII. While it would be nice to update slashdot to the current millenium, it's not physically possible to maintain perl code so we're stuck with it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Hurricane78 (562437)

        Hmm... not even HTML entities work: 18 µs = 18 s = 18 s (numeric entity)

        Sorry, but the /. developers should be ashamed. They are the only site I know, that does not support UTF-8...

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Lord Ender (156273)

          And they need to get on that, because I really want to use snowman and jolly roger unicode symbols in my posts!

          • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

            by Hurricane78 (562437)

            Well, I'd more care to use the real apostrophe, real quotes, the ellipsis character, list point, wide dash, Euro symbol, mathematical symbols, write foreign names and many other useful characters, that are on my keyboard. :)

            Instead I am forced to use really stupid replacements.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by krou (1027572)
        I'd like to say "Hmmm, yes, that's exactly what I did when I submitted it", and look less of an idiot, but I'm afraid it was a mistake on my part when I submitted it. In my defence, all I can say is I have an attention span of 18 seconds ;)
    • by steelfood (895457)

      Of course the editors are going to sensationalize! You can't capture an audience if your summary states 18 microseconds.

    • by billcopc (196330)

      So, in other words, it's still a figment of their imagination ? I thought these sounded useless at 18 seconds, but 18 microseconds makes them REALLY useless.

      Our R&D dollars at work...

    • by Rufty (37223)
      Slashdot - correct to within six orders of magnitude.
  • Well (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    If you modulate an inverse tachion beam you should be able to get the same results.

  • Scotty! (Score:4, Funny)

    by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Friday April 24, 2009 @01:42PM (#27704259) Journal

    "Captain, I canna hold the DiRubidium together any longer..."

  • by geekmux (1040042) on Friday April 24, 2009 @01:42PM (#27704275)

    "...We use an ultracold cloud of rubidium â" as you cool it, the atoms in the gas move closer together. We excite the atoms to the Rydberg stage with a laser. If we have a gas at the critical density, with two atoms at the correct distance that are able to form the molecule, and we excite one to the Rydberg state, then we can form a molecule."

    Uhhh, yeah, what he said.

    18 seconds or 18 microseconds? Could mean the difference between winning or losing the purse at the first-ever electron bull rodeo...

  • I RTFA, but can someone more well-versed in Physics explain what sort of implications this has?

    Does it validate some kind of Quantum Mechanics theory?

    Does it have any practical application, either now or in the distant future?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 24, 2009 @01:57PM (#27704485)

      Inexpesnive flying cars and effective robot wives.

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday April 24, 2009 @02:02PM (#27704547) Journal
      Not much. Being able to create Rydberg molecules via physical experiment just serves to help validate the theories that predict them.

      Now if they had created Zoidberg molecules, the implications would be huge, particularly in the realm of Decapodian cell biology.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Red Flayer (890720)
        [sigh]

        NOT informative. I answered nothing not gleanable from the first few lines of the summary. It was a setup for a piss-poor attempt at Friday humor.

        I swear, sometimes I feel like I have a "Mod me up inappropriately" note taped to my back.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mhall119 (1035984)

      I'm not real sure of the implications, but after reading the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org], it seems that this kind of molecule may behave more like a single atom with two nuclei than a typical two-atom molecule. This may offer new confinement possibilities in fusion research, but I'm no physicist.

      • by mazarin5 (309432)

        The Hydrogen atom is fairly well explored, and has a nucleic charge of +e, while the electron orbiting it has a charge of -e. As the electron becomes excited, it moves farther away from the nucleus until it is finally ionized.

        In more complex atom, such as Rubidium, you have a nucleic charge of +37e, and 37 electrons with a charge of -e surrounding it. When observed from a distance, these add to a net charge of 0, making it neutral.

        If you are able to excite the outermost electron of an atom, the electron wil

    • by Locke2005 (849178)
      In the realm of subatomic physics, if you create a molecule that nobody else has ever seen before, than this is considered conclusive evidence that your penis is much bigger than that of all the other scientists. Hence the implication is that these scientists will score much more with all those nubile, hot young physics groupies. "Oh baby, show me your Bose-Einstein Condensate!"
      • Subatomic physics doesn't give a shit about molecules, cause they're bigger than atoms. Now if you discover a new subatomic particle, however...

      • ...all those nubile, hot young physics groupies...

        Scientist: "Hah! well mine is 100 nanometers!, and can go on for up to 18 microseconds"

        All those nubile, hot young physics groupies: "Ohhhh my! That is so large! And lasts so long!"

        Scientist: "Now who's your Daddy?"

        All those nubile, hot young physics groupies: *squeals of delight, desire, adulation, and one porcine*

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Hurricane78 (562437)

      I'm sure, there's a Wikipedia article about it. If not... Well, to me it looks like a Bose-Einstein condensate, but made of two whole atoms.
      For those condensates, they use pretty much the same technique.

    • by d3l33t (1106803)
      While the creation of the molecule in itself is amazing, it's the process in how they created it that's more profound.
    • by radtea (464814) on Friday April 24, 2009 @02:51PM (#27705121)

      I RTFA, but can someone more well-versed in Physics explain what sort of implications this has?

      Not my field, but this is my sense of what's going on:

      1) Rydberg atoms have one electron in a very high state of excitation, and look like Bohr-model atoms, as the highly-excited single outer electron is so far from the rest of the atom that the combination of the inner electrons and the nuclear charge look like a point-charge, so the outer electron experiences a 1/r potential. This makes Rydberg atoms theoretically tractable with simple Bohr theory, which is always fun to play with.

      2) Rydberg molecules are make from a Rydberg atom and a normal (unexcited) atom. My guess is that the normal atom is actually inside the "orbit" of the Rydberg atom's outer electron, so it will be slightly polarized by the core field, and the resulting dipole will interact with the electron to produce the bound state. Sounds like a job for linear response theory.

      3) In general, testing systems under such extreme conditions allows us to measure precisely various properties of matter, like the fine structure constant or the electric charge or whatever. I don't know if anything like that will come out of this, but extreme systems often allow for precise tests of esoteric phenomena.

      4) Yes, this does validate quantum theory. No, it probably doesn't have much in they way of practical application, but then again, it doesn't have to.

      • by hurfy (735314)

        "This makes Rydberg atoms theoretically tractable with simple Bohr theory, which is always fun to play with."

        Damn, i bet you were a riot on play dates!

      • by LatencyKills (1213908) on Friday April 24, 2009 @03:19PM (#27705499)
        It's been something like 20 years, but I did Rydberg atom work (using Helium atoms) back in graduate school (another student was running the vacuum rig, and I was providing the lasers for excitation and containment). As the previous poster wrote, a Rydberg atom has a single electron up in an energy state so high that it is almost unrelated to the atom which (weakly) holds it. The creation of a Rydberg molecule allows for the confirmation of a number of quantum mechanical oddities - things that were predicted by theory but couldn't be measured in a lab. It can also allow some real insight into the nature of shared bonds between atoms in a molecule and studies of weak electromagnetic forces. The Rydberg atoms themselves allowed for interactions involving electrons that were essentially at a zero kinetic energy state, teetering on the edge of a relatively enormous potential well (which is why they tend to last such a short period of time before de-excitation to some lower state).
    • by TheEcho (1459195)

      Maybe Rydberg based computers..

  • ... but if I remember it correctly, Rydberg molecules have been found in interstellar clouds where both matter density and temperature are very low compared to on-Earth laboratory environments. In space, they are not subjected to frequent interaction with other atoms, which could easily destroy their fragile Rydberg states.
    • by DragonTHC (208439)

      really? who flew to an interstellar cloud to find them?

      • by Akido37 (1473009)

        really? who flew to an interstellar cloud to find them?

        Don't you watch Star Trek: Voyager? No? You're better off.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by b0ttle (1332811)
        You know we've got spectrometers nowadays.
    • by hweimer (709734)

      Nah. These are not simply highly excited molecular states (i.e., Rydberg states of molecules), but molecules formed by a novel binding mechanism between one highly excited Rydberg atom (not molecule) and a second ground state atom.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday April 24, 2009 @01:47PM (#27704341) Journal
    Error detected. All news stories of esoteric pure science experiments must conclude, "Spokesman for the lab, Dr Sor Eass, said that this phenomenon could lead to faster computers in the next five to ten years."
  • by cwiegmann24 (1476667) on Friday April 24, 2009 @02:15PM (#27704711)
    "Unimaginably cold temperatures are needed to create the molecules, as Vera Bendkowsky from the University of Stuttgart who led the research explained."

    If you can't even imagine the cold temperatures, how can they get it cold enough? Shenanagins
    • Easy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by SuperKendall (25149)

      If you can't even imagine the cold temperatures, how can they get it cold enough?

      They use the guy who totally lacks imagination to set it up. There's at least one in every lab...

      You can do anything if you literal-minded enough and have someone to tell you what impossible thing to do. :-)

    • by Red Flayer (890720) on Friday April 24, 2009 @03:01PM (#27705261) Journal
      It's very easy to get unimaginably cold numbers, unless you are using Kelvins.

      Say your temperature is -64 degrees.
      Now take the square root of that.
      What you have left is a temperature of 8i degrees.
      So we have an imaginary temperature.
      Now, to get an unimaginary cold temperature, you've got to start with a positive temperature that is cold.

      So 4 degrees is cold; furthermore, it is unimaginary, since even if you take a square root you will not get an imaginary number.

      There is no problem with that statement.
  • It's a sheepdog with a very short life-span, however; the longest lived molecule only lasted 18 seconds[sic].

    Man, that's just not fair. It was hard enough when my beagle only lived for 12 years. Now my wife will never want a pet Rydberg!

  • by modrzej (1450687) <m.m.modrzejewski ... l.com minus poet> on Friday April 24, 2009 @02:40PM (#27704975)
    I've done a little research using Scholar (Phys. Rev. Lett. 85, 2458 - 2461 (2000)) and it seems that basic facts about Rydberg molecules are: 1) These are molecules made of two atoms of the same kind, enormously separated (minima of potential curves for example at about 1500 atomic units); 2) Because of extremly shallow minima of energy curve in witch they exist, they are unstable, so must be ultra cold; 3) This Rb_2 molecule despite being homonuclear, displays large dipole moment, which is unusual but predicted by theory. The experiment with rubidium described here proves that approximate quantum theory (I bet that existence of this molecule was predicted using Born-Oppenheimer approximation) is capable of describing effects subtle as this one (existence of Rb_2 Rydberg molecule is subtle one). I'm not an expert in relativistic effects, but it seems to me that this example of extremely distant separation of atoms in molecule could call for relativistic treatment: one Rb atom doesn't know of the other at once, because the information about the movement of the other can't travel faster than light. This effect may be big because of separation of these two atoms.
  • I read "18 seconds" and thought, that is a DAMN DAMN long time in terms of weird particle lifetimes go.

  • Atoms with a single electron in their outermost shell bond. Sounds like hydrogen H2.

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