Effects of laser light on ultracold atom collisions

Date of Completion

January 1996


Physics, Molecular|Physics, Atomic|Physics, Optics




Measurements of the temperature dependence of trap loss collisions of laser-cooled rubidium atoms are presented. A significant suppression of the rate of collisions between ground- and excited-state atoms is observed for temperatures below $\sim$70 $\mu$K. In such inelastic collisions, the atomic excitation takes place at long range and must survive against spontaneous decay to short range. Our results are consistent with recent predictions for the low temperature suppression of these collisions due to reduced survival of atomic excitation at low collision velocities.^ We report on measurements of trap loss collisions between ultracold Rb atoms which are confined in a magneto-optical trap. Both isotopes $\sp{85}$Rb and $\sp{87}$Rb have been studied over wide range of trap laser intensities and detunings. The trap loss collision rates exhibit variations over 3 orders of magnitude. We observe significant differences between the isotopes. At large detunings the ability of the trap to recapture products of the hyperfine-changing collisions is significantly diminished. This finding is supported by our numerical simulations of the recapture process. The trap loss rates due to collisions with room temperature background gas have also been measured.^ Using laser light tuned to a repulsive molecular potential, we have been able to suppress inelastic ground-state hyperfine changing collisions between ultracold $\sp{87}$Rb atoms. Adiabatic excitation to the repulsive curve alters the atomic trajectories and prevents the atoms from approaching close enough for the hyperfine change to occur. Experimental results show suppressions up to $\sim$50% and are in reasonable agreement with a simple Landau-Zener model.^ Finally, we have observed a significant cooperative effect in ultracold trap loss collisions induced by two separate lasers. One laser, tuned close to the atomic resonance, excites the atom pair to an attractive potential at long range. The resulting acceleration and deflection give rise to an enhancement in the collisional flux of ground-state atoms reaching short range, as probed by a second laser. Enhancements up to a factor of $\sim$3 have been observed. ^