Atomic Physics Division

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Laser Cooling and Trapping Group

Metastable Xenon Project

Metastable xenon is an attractive system for the study of atomic and molecular physics for a variety of reasons. There are nine stable isotopes of xenon, all of which may be laser cooled and magneto-optically trapped (see figure at lower right). Both bosonic and fermionic isotopes are available, allowing the study of both isotopic and quantum statistical effects. The narrow two-photon transition at 2.19 ┬Ám is an attractive candidate for an optical frequency standard, and may potentially lead to a significant improvement over existing standards. Two atoms colliding in the 6s[3/2]2 metastable state can undergo Penning ionization (Xe* + Xe* yields Xe Xe+ + e-), producing an easily detectable Xe+ ion; this makes metastable xenon an ideal system for the study of ultra-cold collisions between atoms.

Xenon metastables in the 6s[3/2]2 state (Figure 1 at lower left) are created in a DC electric discharge. This state, with a lifetime of 43 seconds, serves as the effective "ground state" for all our experiments. The atoms are laser cooled using light tuned near the 882 nm 6s[3/2]2 yields 6p[5/2]3 transition, and loaded into a magneto-optical trap (MOT). We typically load 107 atoms into our MOT, at densities of 1010 cm-3, and temperatures of ~100 µK.

Xenon leval diagram

Figure 1 Simplified level diagram of xenon, showing the important states and transitions for the experiments described in these pages.

Figure 2

Figure 2 As the frequencies of the slowing and trapping lasers are scanned simultaneously, the flourescence of atoms in the trap exhibits nine peaks, corresponding to trapping of the nine xenon isotopes. From left to right, these are 131Xe, 136Xe, 134Xe, 132Xe, 130Xe, 128Xe, 126Xe, 124Xe, and 129Xe. Natural abundances of 126Xe and 124Xe are less than 0.1%, showing the isotope selectivity of these techniques. The lower trace is the periodic transmission through a 75 MHz Fabry-Perot etalon.

Metastable Xenon Subprojects Optical Control of Collisions
Time-Resolved Collisions
Collisions in Optical Lattices
Lifetimes, Frequency Standards

Xenon Experiment Staff, Past and Present:

The work described in these pages was performed under the direction of Steve Rolston by a number of students and post-docs, including (but not limited to):

  • Scott Bergeson
  • Chad Fertig
  • Maarten Hoogerland
  • Tom Kilian
  • Simone Kulin
  • John Lawall
  • Michael Lim
  • Chad Orzel
  • Jacob Roberts
  • Uwe Sterr
  • Matt Walhout
  • Axel Witte


    Steven Rolston
    National Institute of Standards and Technology
    PHYS A168
    Gaithersburg, MD 20899
    (301) 975-6581

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Online: May 1998   -   Last update: June 2003 (format only)