Spinor Bose-Einstein condensates in magnetic field gradients

2017-02-27T05:34:36Z (GMT) by Wood, Alexander
Spinor Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) are multi-component superfluids with magnetic interactions, formed from dilute gases of atoms in the Zeeman sublevels mF of a single hyperfine ground state F. Spinor BECs are inherently magnetic quantum objects, and exhibit a multitude of features such as spin domains, magnon excitations, and distinct magnetic phases. At the heart of the magnetic nature of a spinor BEC is the spin-dependent collisional interaction c, which determines the overall magnetic behaviour of the superfluid. In conjunction with the quadratic Zeeman shift q, the magnitude and sign of c give rise to an intricate magnetic phase diagram. The magnetic phase of a spinor BEC is tunable, and c and q are the knobs. In addition to realising quantum simulators of magnetism, spinor BECs are also precise magnetic sensors. Atomic magnetometry measures the Larmor precession frequency of atoms, which is proportional to the magnetic field strength. The sensitivity of an atomic magnetometer is principally dependent on the duration of the measurement (interrogation time) and number of atoms participating in the measurement. BECs are highly suitable as atomic magnetometers, allowing for long interrogation times and high atomic density, with microscopic sensor volumes. The latter is an important consideration, as measurement of small magnetic sources demand equally microscopic sensors. Established forms of magnetometry (such as warm vapour magnetometers) use large sensing volumes and are not trivially miniaturised. The exquisite sensitivity of a spinor BEC to magnetic fields becomes a liability when one studies low energy (~ 1 Hz) spinor physics over long evolution times (100 ms) in a typical laboratory environment. To first order, the spin-collisional interaction is independent of the magnetic field. However, spatially inhomogeneous magnetic fields are problematic, exerting mechanical forces on the magnetically sensitive spin components, suppressing spin collisions and possibly introducing relaxation mechanisms that confound the observation of intrinsic equilibration. Precise characterisation of magnetic field gradients and their cancellation is thus of paramount importance. In this thesis, the interaction of a spinor BEC with its environment is studied. The construction, operation and optimisation of a BEC machine is described in detail, as well as the quantum state preparation and control techniques used. Spin-mixing collisions were studied by observing population oscillations, the characteristic hallmark of such coherent phenomena. The observed population dynamics showed strong evidence of the deleterious effects of magnetic field gradients. A series of experiments were performed using spin-echo pulse sequences to decouple the evolving spinor condensate from the inhomogeneous magnetic environment with encouraging results, but which posed further questions. The fidelity of spin-echo pulses in the strong radiative coupling regime was also studied. Spinor condensates were then employed as sensitive magnetometers to characterise the magnetic landscape they inhabit. A new method of measuring magnetic field gradients was developed, using a pair of spinor BECs separated in space that are simultaneously addressed by a Ramsey interferometry sequence. Combined with a re-orientable magnetic bias field, the resulting gradiometer was used to measure the magnetic field gradient tensor in vacuo. This scheme can be extended to realise a high-precision vector co-magnetometer, with spatiotemporal sensitivity comparable to established forms of magnetometry. Vector light shifts (VLSs) are optically-induced energy shifts that result in effective magnetic fields, which in our case originate from the laser beams used to trap the atoms. The VLS vanishes for purely linearly polarised light, which is experimentally difficult to obtain in vacuo. Small elliptical polarisation imperfections originating from birefringent optics and the glass vacuum cell result in a non-zero shift that contaminates magnetometry measurements. The VLS is spatially varying due to the intensity gradient of the trapping light. Due to gravitational sag of the trapping potential, the spatial variation of the VLS is accentuated, resulting in an effective magnetic field gradient that contributes to dephasing and component separation. The simultaneous Ramsey interferometry experiments are then adapted to measure the VLS-induced Zeeman shift and diagnose its elimination. Up to 99.96% of the VLS is eliminated using this method, and extensions to the technique are described.