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Monday, September 15, 2014

Using Sound To Talk To Atoms

Atom and particles image
I love when I hear about audio or music being used for things other than what we're familiar with, and this is a really good one. One of the latest uses for audio is in quantum physics where scientists from Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden are using sound to communicate with with atoms.

Quantum physics deals with particles at a nanoscopic or sub-atomic scale and a great number of everyday products like the transistor, the laser and the MRI machine operate on a quantum scale. You might say that modern audio, which is so dependent upon the microchip, is a direct result of what happens way down there in the quantum universe.

In this case, the scientists first decided to try to listen to the sound emitted by an atom, which is the weakest sound which can be detected (imagine the amplifier needed for that!). After that they decided to try to manipulate the atom with sound, which proved to be a success.

It turns out that using sound works a lot better than light, which is what is usually used for this purpose, because it travels 100,000 times slower, which provides more control over the atoms and their particles. Because the atom is so large compared to the wavelength of the sound used, it can be customized to only react to certain frequencies.

Lest you think you might try this at home, you should know that the experiments where carried out at near absolute zero temperature and the scientists used a frequency of 4.8GHz, which equates to a D28 note. That's 20 octaves higher than the highest note on a grand piano!
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