Transitions are exciting. And at temperatures close to absolute zero, studying the transition from one quantum phase to another tantalizes physicists looking for a deeper understanding of the fundamental laws of the universe.
Now a team of scientists at the University of Chicago has created the first direct images of the transition between phases of ultracold cesium gas, as it changes from normal to superfluid to Mott insulator, making it possible to “see” this phenomenon as it happens.
“These are the first direct images of a complete physical system in situ, allowing us to unambiguously observe certain unique features of the Mott insulating state,” explained post-doctoral student Nathan Gemelke.
In a paper appearing in the journal Nature, Gemelke and his co-authors describe the most striking visual feature of this phase transition–a many-layered wedding cake structure.