Production of ultracold potassium molecules and development of high sensitivity spectroscopic methods

Date of Completion

January 2000


Physics, Molecular|Physics, Atomic|Physics, Optics




In the first part of this dissertation we develop and successfully demonstrate two methods, based on photoassociation of ultracold potassium atoms, for producing ultracold K2 molecules, with sub mK temperatures, in deeply bound vibrational levels of the ground XS+g 1 state. The principal objective has been to develop an “ultracold molecule factory” that can be used to support experiments on spectroscopy, collisions, and chemistry of ultracold molecules. ^ In the first experiment the ground-state molecules are produced by the radiative decay of excited, n≅191 AS+u 1 state molecules, photoassociated from ultracold potassium atoms in a vapor-cell MOT. The decay is primarily into the vibrational continuum, but a small fraction decays into bound levels of the X state near n = 36. The experimentally observed molecule production rate is about 103 per second. ^ In our second experiment, we use two-step laser excitation to effect an “R-transfer” from long-range to intermediate internuclear separations, greatly increasing the efficiency for radiative production of low- n molecules in the X state. Molecules are formed in the Pg1 state by photoassociation, then excited by a second laser to the 51Pu or 61Pu Rydberg states, in selected vibrational levels from n = 13–18. Finally, radiative decay produces very large numbers of X state molecules with n≅25 and significant numbers of molecules in very low vibrational levels, including n = 0. We have observed production rates up to about 105 molecules/second per vibrational level. ^ In both experiments the ground-state molecules are detected with a sensitive and selective resonant two-color photoionization with nanosecond pulses. ^ In the second part of this dissertation we demonstrate a novel method for high sensitivity absorption measurements, that combines a phase modulated, high-resolution pulsed laser with an actively stabilized optical cavity to achieve a sensitivity of ∼10−9 per cm. This is comparable to the best existing methods for pulsed absorption measurements, but unlike most other methods, it can also be readily extended to the UV region and to Doppler-free spectroscopy. ^