Zooming in on ultracold matter: two superresolution microscopy methods can image the atomic density of ultracold quantum gases with nanometer resolution


Ultracold atoms are an exceptionally versatile platform to test novel physical concepts. They have greatly advanced our understanding of the physics of many-body systems and allowed precision measurements of fundamental constants. They are also a promising architecture for quantum computation and quantum simulation. A key to the practicality of ultra-cold atoms is the ability to image them with high spatial resolution. Available microscopy schemes have reached sufficient resolution to detect individual atoms trapped in optical lattices with submicron spacings, but their spatial resolution is typically limited to about half the wavelength of the imaging light. Now, two independent teams—one led by Cheng Chin from the University of Chicago, Illinois, and the other led by Steve Rolston and Trey Porto from the University of Maryland, College Park —have reported subwavelength-resolution imaging techniques for ultracold atoms. The methods, capable of resolving objects up to 50 times smaller than the optical wavelength, have allowed the teams to map the shape of atomic density distributions on nanometer scales. Nanoscale maps of atomic density will be important observables for probing many-body effects in cold atomic and molecular systems.