Creation of ultracold molecules from a Fermi gas of atoms

Physics – Condensed Matter

Scientific paper

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Scientific paper

10.1038/nature01738

Since the realization of Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC) in atomic gases an experimental challenge has been the production of molecular gases in the quantum regime. A promising approach is to create the molecular gas directly from an ultracold atomic gas; for example, atoms in a BEC have been coupled to electronic ground-state molecules through photoassociation as well as through a magnetic-field Feshbach resonance. The availability of atomic Fermi gases provides the exciting prospect of coupling fermionic atoms to bosonic molecules, and thus altering the quantum statistics of the system. This Fermi-Bose coupling is closely related to the pairing mechanism for a novel fermionic superfluid proposed to occur near a Feshbach resonance. Here we report the creation and quantitative characterization of exotic, ultracold $^{40}$K$_2$ molecules. Starting with a quantum degenerate Fermi gas of atoms at T < 150 nanoKelvin we scan over a Feshbach resonance to adiabatically create over a quarter million trapped molecules, which we can convert back to atoms by reversing the scan. The small binding energy of the molecules is controlled by detuning from the Feshbach resonance and can be varied over a wide range. We directly detect these weakly bound molecules through rf photodissociation spectra that probe the molecular wavefunction and yield binding energies that are consistent with theory.

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