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Developments in atomic control using ultracold magnetic lanthanides


Lanthanide atoms have an unusual electron configuration, with a partially filled shell of f orbitals. This leads to a set of characteristic properties, including large numbers of optical transitions with widely varying wavelengths and transition strengths, anisotropic interaction properties between atoms and with light, and a large magnetic moment and spin space present in the ground state, that enable enhanced control over ultracold atoms and their interactions. These features, in turn, enable new forms of control as well as novel many-body phenomena. Microkelvin temperatures can be reached by narrow-line laser cooling and evaporative cooling through universal dipolar scattering. The properties and tunability of the interatomic interactions have enabled observations of a rotonic dispersion relation, self-bound liquid-like droplets stabilized by quantum fluctuations and supersolid states. Here we describe how the unusual level structure of lanthanide atoms leads to these key features and provide a brief and necessarily partial overview of experimental progress in this rapidly developing field.

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Fig. 1: Magnetic lanthanide atoms feature an unusual valence electronic structure, with a fully occupied 6s (L = 0) orbital and a partially filled 4f (L = 3) orbital, in a submerged shell configuration.
Fig. 2: Key properties of the laser-cooled magnetic lanthanides and their dipolar strength.
Fig. 3: Observed density of Feshbach resonances in lanthanide atoms.
Fig. 4: Control over large spin space.
Fig. 5: Roton, droplets and the supersolid phase in dipolar gases.


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F.F. is financially supported through an ERC consolidator grant (RARE, no. 681432), an NFRI grant (MIRARE, no. ÖAW0600) of the Austrian Academy of Science and a QuantERA grant MAQS from the Austrian Science Fund (FWF no. I4391-N). F.F. acknowledges support from the DFG/FWF via grant no. FOR 2247/PI2790. M.A.N. has received funding as an ESQ Postdoctoral Fellow from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement no. 801110 and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF).

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Norcia, M.A., Ferlaino, F. Developments in atomic control using ultracold magnetic lanthanides. Nat. Phys. 17, 1349–1357 (2021).

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