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Thinnest Diffraction Grating Made for Matter Wave Optics

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 06:20AM

One of the classic quantum mechanical experiments is the double slit experiment, where single quanta are fired at two open slits, and despite being a single entity, an interference pattern will be created as though there were many. This experiment has been done with photons and with small molecules in the past, and has gotten an important tweak recently, thanks to researchers at the University of Vienna.

One of the challenges with doing the double slit experiment with molecules is that the molecules could stick to the grating, instead of passing through its slits. They stick due to the same van der Waals force that allows geckos to climb on smooth surfaces. To reduce the strength of this force, the researchers made their new grating out of a single layer of graphene, which is only one atom thick. This so shortens the interaction time between the molecules and the grating that they will not stick to the graphene.

As this research brings us the thinnest possible diffraction masks, it will likely make new kinds of research possible with matter wave optics. It has also again confirmed an old thought experiment, which asks if the particles flying through the diffraction grating and cause the grating to vibrate, like strings on a harp. If this were to happen then one would be able to determine the position of the particle, destroying the quantum interference central to the experiment. Even with the graphene grating though, the induced vibrations are so small that they are impossible to discern from uncertainty in the grating's position to begin with.

Source: University of Vienna

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