5 - Interactions between atoms  pp. 102-145

Interactions between atoms

By C. J. Pethick and H. Smith

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From a theoretical point of view, one of the appealing features of clouds of alkali atom vapours is that particle separations, which are typically of order 102 nm, are large compared with the scattering length a which characterizes the strength of interactions. Scattering lengths for alkali atoms are of the order of 100a0, where a0, is the Bohr radius, and therefore alkali atom vapours are dilute, in the sense that the dominant effects of interaction are due to two-body encounters. It is therefore possible to calculate properties of the gas reliably from a knowledge of two-body scattering at low energies, which implies that information about atomic scattering is a key ingredient in work on Bose–Einstein condensates.

An alkali atom in its electronic ground state has several different hyperfine states, as we have seen in Secs. 3.1 and 3.2. Interatomic interactions give rise to transitions between these states and, as we described in Sec. 4.6, such processes are a major mechanism for loss of trapped atoms. In a scattering process, the internal states of the particles in the initial or final states are described by a set of quantum numbers, such as those for the spin, the atomic species, and their state of excitation. We shall refer to a possible choice of these quantum numbers as a channel.1 At the temperatures of interest for Bose-Einstein condensation, atoms are in their electronic ground states, and the only relevant internal states are therefore the hyperfine states. Because of the existence of several hyperfine states for a single atom, the scattering of cold alkali atoms is a multi-channel problem.