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Scientists play world’s smallest ball game with single ATOMS

The breakthrough could pave the way for superfast quantum computers.

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By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Scientists have played the world's smallest ball game with single ATOMS on the tiniest pitch imaginable.

(Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology via SWNS)

They threw and caught single atoms using light beams for 'hands.'

The amazing feat has been likened to an infinitesimal version of cricket or baseball.

It was achieved with 'optical tweezers' which can hold and move sub-microscopic particle objects with highly focused lasers.

The breakthrough could pave the way for superfast quantum computers.

Lead author Professor Jaewook Ahn, from the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, said: "The freely flying atoms move from one place to the other without being held by or interacting with the optical trap.

"In other words, the atom is thrown and caught between the two optical traps much like the ball travels between the pitcher and a catcher in a baseball game.”

(Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology via SWNS)

Atoms are the smallest part of a substance that cannot be broken down chemically. There are as many in a golf ball as golf balls would fit into Earth.

The team propelled rubidium atoms used in specialized glass over a distance of about 4.2 micrometers - about a 16,000th of an inch.

They traveled at speeds of just over two feet a second.

Prof Ahn said: "These types of flying atoms could enable a new type of dynamic quantum computing by allowing the relative locations of qubits - the quantum equivalent to binary bits — to be more freely changed.

"It could also be used to create collisions between individual atoms - opening a new field of atom-by-atom chemistry."

The experiments reported in the journal Optica are part of an ongoing project that involves using the devices to arrange atoms in a particular shape.

Prof Ahn explained: "We often encountered arrangement errors that rendered an array defective.

"We wanted to find an efficient way to fix them without having to move a large number - because that could result in even more errors."

Atoms became free-flying once cooled almost to the coldest temperature possible - absolute zero.

They were launched when the optical tweezers - formed with an 800-nanometer laser - were turned on and off.

Another was switched on to capture them - and then closed down gradually until they stopped completely.

Prof Ahn and colleagues also showed the atoms could be ejected through another stationary tweezer - unaffected by others encountered along the way.

They also used their method to create arrays of atoms. The technique worked about 94 percent of the time. Fine-tuning should achieve nearly 100 percent success.

Atoms are the basic building blocks for all matter in the universe. Most last forever.

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