This chapter presents a brief introduction to atom optics, assuming only a basic knowledge of elementary physics ideas such as conservation of energy and conservation of momentum, and making only limited use of elementary algebra. Starting from a historical perspective we introduce the idea of wave-particle duality, a fundamental tenet of quantum mechanics that teaches us that atoms, just like light, behave sometimes as waves, and sometimes as particles. It is this profound but counter-intuitive property that allows one to do with atoms much of what is familiar from conventional optics. However, because in contrast to photons atoms have a mass, there are also fundamental differences between the two that have important consequences. In particular this property opens up a number of applications that are ill-suited for conventional optical methods. After explaining why it is particularly advantageous to work at temperatures close to absolute zero to benefit most readily from the wave nature of atoms we discuss several of these applications, concentrating primarily on the promise of atom microscopes and atom interferometers in addressing fundamental and extraordinarily challenging questions at the frontier of current physics knowledge.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy(all)