Tuesday, May 22, 2007

QCD with cold atoms?

Via Chad Orzel, a PhysicsWeb new story reports a recent proposal to use a rather different kind of lattice than the one usually discussed here for understanding QCD. The authors of this PRL paper propose that ultracold fermionic atoms with three possible hyperfine states trapped in an optical lattice (a periodic potential created by crossing laser beams) would behave like quarks in QCD, including forming "baryonic" states and showing the same phase transitions as QCD matter.

I don't know enough about atomic and optical physics to be able to tell whether this proposal is reasonable. If it is, it could be seen as one of the first examples of the use of an analogue quantum computer to simulate an otherwise experimentally inaccessible quantum system. However, I can see no real evidence that the atomic system would really be simulating QCD (which includes gluons and sea quarks) rather than some kind of quark model, so I remain a little sceptical regarding that claim. In any case, this proposal shows how far atomic and optical physics has come in its ability to finely control the states and interactions of atoms, so even if it isn't QCD, it's pretty cool.