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Title: Simulations of systems of cold Rydberg atoms
Author: Thwaite, Simon James
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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The past three decades have seen extraordinary progress in the manipulation of neutral atoms with laser light, to the point where it is now routine to trap and cool both individual atoms and entire atomic clouds to temperatures of only a few tens of nanoKelvin in a controlled and repeatable fashion. In this thesis we study several applications of Rydberg atoms - atoms with an electron in a highly excited state - within such ultracold atomic systems. Due to their highly-excited electron, Rydberg atoms have a number of exaggerated properties: in addition to being physically large, they have long radiative lifetimes, and interact strongly both with one another and with applied external fields. Rydberg atoms consequently find many interesting applications within ultracold atomic physics. We begin this thesis by analysing the way in which a rubidium atom prepared in an excited Rydberg state decays to the ground state. Using quantum defect theory to model the wavefunction of the excited electron, we compute branching ratios for the various decay channels that lead out of the Rydberg states of rubidium. By using these results to carry out detailed simulations of the radiative cascade process, we show that the dynamics of spontaneous emission from Rydberg states cannot be adequately described by a truncated atomic level structure. We then investigate the stability of ultra-large diatomic molecules formed by pairs of Rydberg atoms. Using quantum defect theory to model the electronic wavefunctions, we apply molecular integral techniques to calculate the equilibrium distance and binding energy of these molecular Rydberg states. Our results indicate that these Ryberg macro-dimers are predicted to show a potential minimum, with equilibrium distances of up to several hundred nanometres. In the second half of this thesis, we present a new method of symbolically evaluating functions of matrices. This method, which we term the method of path-sums, has applications to the simulation of strongly-correlated many-body Rydberg systems, and is based on the combination of a mapping between matrix multiplications and walks on weighted directed graphs with a universal result on the structure of such walks. After presenting and proving this universal graph theoretic result, we develop the path-sum approach to matrix functions. We discuss the application of path-sums to the simulation of strongly-correlated many-body quantum systems, and indicate future directions for the method.
Supervisor: Jaksch, Dieter Sponsor: Clarendon Fund
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Graph theory ; Quantum optics ; Quantum theory ; Walks and paths on graphs ; Cold atoms ; Rydberg states