A laser cooling apparatus that generates a cold beam of rubidium and cesium atoms at low pressure has been constructed as one of several intermediate products of a continuing program of research on laser cooling and atomic physics. Laser-cooled atomic beams, which can have temperatures as low as a microkelvin, have been used in diverse applications that include measurements of fundamental constants, atomic clocks that realize the international standard unit of time, atom-wave interferometers, and experiments on Bose-Einstein condensation. The present apparatus is a prototype of one being evaluated for use in a proposed microgravitational experiment called the Quantum Interferometric Test of Equivalence (QuITE). In this experiment, interferometric measurements of cesium and rubidium atoms in free fall would be part of a test of Einstein's equivalence principle. The present apparatus and its anticipated successors may also be useful in other experiments, in both microgravity and normal Earth gravity, in which there are requirements for dual-species atomic beams, low temperatures, and low pressures.

This is a False-Color Image of fluorescence from cesium atoms in the pyramidal magneto-optical trap. The cold atomic beam in the extraction column is visible in the side views afforded by the 45° mirrors.
The apparatus includes a pyramidal magneto-optical trap in which the illumination is provided by multiple lasers tuned to frequencies characteristic of the two atomic species. The inlet to the apparatus is located in a vacuum chamber that contains rubidium and cesium atoms at a low pressure; the beam leaving through the outlet of the apparatus is used to transfer the atoms to a higher-vacuum (lower-pressure) chamber in which measurements are performed.

The pyramidal magneto -optical trap is designed so that the laser cooling forces in one direction are unbalanced, resulting in a continuous cold beam of atoms that leak out of the trap (see figure). The radiant intensity (number of atoms per unit time per unit solid angle) of the apparatus is the greatest of any other source of the same type reported to date. In addition, this is the first such apparatus capable of producing a slow, collimated beam that contains two atomic species at the same time.

This work was done by Robert Thompson, William Klipstein, James Kohel, Lute Maleki, Nathan Lundblad, Jaime Ramirez-Serrano, Dave Aveline , Nan Yu, and Daphna Enzer of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Physical Sciences category. NPO-30396