Eat your heart out, Antman.
The atomic realm may now have a new favorite pastime.
Through a technique known as optical trapping, scientists have demonstrated that they can throw and catch individual atoms, quite possibly making the experiment the smallest-ever game of baseball.
As detailed in a new study published in the journal Optica, the scientists used highly focused lasers to both move the atoms and lock them in place, a feat that could eventually lead to an entirely new generation of quantum computers.
Although using these optical traps, or tweezers, is common practice for manipulating individual atoms, the scientists say this is the first time the technique was used to release and “throw” an atom — and then catch it in another trap.
“The freely flying atoms move from one place to the other without being held by or interacting with the optical trap,” said study co-author Jaewook Ahn, a physicist at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, in a press release.
“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.”
In the experiment, the scientists favored rubidium atoms, which were cooled to near absolute zero. These were then suspended in an 800-nanometer laser that formed an optical trap.
To “throw” an atom, the scientists accelerated the optical trap holding it in place and then quickly shut off the lasers, thereby liberating the chilly rubidium.
In doing so, they were able to send an atom across a distance of 4.2 micrometers at a speed of a little over 25 inches per second.
On the receiving end, another optical trap then caught the atomic baseball. Not exactly an outfield throw for a human, but a gigantic leap in the atomic realm.
According to Ahn, the ability to “throw” these atoms could pave the way to even speedier quantum computers.
“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,” Ahn explained.
What Ahn is referring to is an emerging form of quantum computing technology that involves packing neutral atoms like rubidium into tight arrays which, in theory, can allow for a far denser amount of qubits than with conventional silicon-based arrangements.
As such, Ahn and his team also used their technique to create such arrays and showed that the free-flying atoms were unperturbed by other atoms along the way — making this study a potential home run.
More on quantum computing: Scientists Fed the Fibonacci Sequence Into a Quantum Computer and Something Strange Happened