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Mar 01, 2011

There's a new science called Atomtronics - which could make devices more powerful than electronics or spintronics. The idea is to use super-cooling atoms that form Bose-Einstein condensates ('gas clouds') and then use them as we use electronics, diodes and transistors. The atoms in the condensate flow as a current, which can be switched on and off like a normal circuit.

Gas Donut photo

This is still all in theory, but there are some scientists already working towards such goals - to create powerful computing devices or memory devices. This is different from spintronics, which stores information based on the spin of individual electrons, allowing each one to store two bits of data instead of one.

In a new research in this field, researchers from the Joint Quantum Institute in Maryland took sodium atoms, suspended them in a magnetic field, and then trapped them using laser beams. They cooled this down (to a few billionths of a degree above absolute zero) which gave them a Bose-Einstein condensate — the atoms began to act as one quantum particle. The atoms were them flattened to a donut-shaped ring with a radius of about 20 micrometers. Then, using another set of laser, they managed to get the ring to spin - which it does without friction - so it could theoretically spin forever (or 40 seconds in that case, which is the lifetime of the condensate). This method could be used to build a new type of rotation sensor.