As electronics progress the size of circuitry decreases, and eventually we may find circuits components made of single atoms. Before that day can come though, we need to have a better understanding of a number of quantum mechanical phenomena. Among these is the spin Hall effect, which researchers at NIST have observed for the first time in a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC).
The spin Hall effect is a phenomenon that affects the movement of particles with spin values, such as electrons. When these particles move, even if they are initially moving in a straight line, they will veer off to one side or another, depending on their spin. This effect could have implications in quantum computers, so researchers are trying to measure it but it can be difficult to resolve it from other effects. This is why the researchers turned to a BEC, which is a cloud of atoms that behave as though they are all a single, large atom. Such an exotic state is actually simpler to work with, for the purpose of isolating the spin Hall effect.
To measure the spin Hall effect on the BEC, the researchers used a laser to push the cloud of atoms, and found that it curved to one side as it moved. While this essentially created an atom spin transistor, with the ability to manipulate spin currents like modern transistors effect electrical currents, a BEC would likely not be practical to build a logic gate from. Instead it will serve as a system to study the spin Hall effect in greater detail.