Precision is of great importance for many devices and generally it is easier to be precise when what you are measuring is not moving much. Achieving this can be rather difficult though when you are working with atoms. Technologies to cool atoms so they barely move do exist, and now researchers at the Universities of Strathclyde and Glasgow, Imperial College London and the National Physical Laboratory have miniaturized it to the point of being portable.
Atoms, being as small as they are, are not exactly easy to cool, since you cannot just put some ice on them, and even if you could, you want them cooled to nearly absolute zero for the best measurements. The way this is accomplished is by shining lasers on the particles that will hold the atom in place, forcing it to cool down. Typically these setups are large, making them difficult to incorporate into some devices, but the researchers have managed to shrink the technology using special diffraction gratings. When a single laser beam strikes the gratings, which have been etched into a semiconductor, the beam splits into many, and each subsequent beam has the ability to trap and cool atoms.
This smaller, simpler design could impact numerous technologies, including atomic clocks, magnetometers and accelerometers. These technologies have applications including navigation, telecommunication, medical imaging and more.
Source: University of Strathclyde