Mentor: Dr. Michael Noel
A magneto-optical trap (MOT) uses a combination of magnetic fields and laser beams to hold a gas of atoms in a frozen configuration. The MOT at Bryn Mawr uses Rubidium atoms for this purpose. Once the atoms are isolated they can be excited to Rydberg states by focusing an additional laser beam into the trap. A Rydberg atom, because of its weakly-bound valence electron, behaves like a dipole and is highly sensitive to external electric fields. The exaggerated properties of Rydberg atoms allow them to interact strongly by means of the dipole-dipole interaction over the long distances separating them in the trap. This is similar to the interaction between the atoms of a solid where the inter-atomic spacing is a thousand times smaller than that of a frozen gas. Trapping atoms in a MOT therefore helps us observe microscopic atomic interactions at a significantly magnified scale. My research project involves exploring how the dipole-dipole interaction depends upon the density of the sample of Rydberg atoms as well as its dimensionality.