The processes that occur when atoms cool have long eluded scientists. However, a team of researchers at The Open University believe they have developed a method to understand more about the specifics of atom cooling and hope this may one day be used to more sophisticated superconductors.
A superconductor is a material with no electrical resistance. If researchers can get superconductors to operate closer to room temperature, this would lead to greater efficiency and might change the way superconductors are understood, created, and operate.
The Open University’s Department of Physical Sciences developed the understanding of atom cooling by simulating a superconductor using a quantum simulator. Their simulator is a glorified quantum computer that allows researchers to examine specific problems; they stress that it is not a supercomputer.
Atoms that are cooled to millionths of a degree above absolute zero can be examined by the quantum simulator. The simulator is able to provide greater detail than ever observed before, thanks to laser beams that enhance the electrical forces between the atoms.
Since this understanding of cooling atoms is so new, researchers are still trying to get a handle on the information. Continued study of atoms in the quantum simulator may allow researchers to build better materials that lead to better superconductors.