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Nonexponential decay in atomic tunneling

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4 Author(s)
Hadison, K.W. ; Dept. of Phys., Texas Univ., Austin, TX, USA ; Fischer, M.C. ; Qian Niu ; Raizen, M.G.

Summary form only given.We report the observation of short-time deviation from exponential decay in a quantum tunneling experiment. Our system consists of ultracold sodium atoms that are trapped in an accelerating periodic optical potential created by a standing wave of light. Atoms can escape the wells via quantum tunneling, and the number that remain is measured as a function of interaction time for a fixed value of the well depth and acceleration. To study tunneling in this system, sodium atoms are first trapped and cooled in a magneto-optical trap. The trapping beams as well as the magnetic field gradient are then turned off, and an accelerating far-detuned standing wave of light is turned on. A three-step acceleration is implemented to measure the loss due to tunneling. Once the final velocity is reached, the potential is turned off and the atomic fluorescence is imaged after a free drift time. We have measured the survival probability and found that the initial survival probability is flat and then crosses over to an exponential decay. The intermediate stage is characterized by a time-dependent loss rate. To analyze the short-time tunneling probability and the approach to exponential decay, we use a simple model of the band structure with a single (trapped) band separated by a bandgap from a free particle state. We find an analytic expression for the survival probability that is quadratic for the first few microseconds of evolution, with a crossover to exponential decay at long times. We show that this crossover time is related to the tunneling time. We also identify a new parameter regime where coherent oscillations of the survival probability are seen.

Published in:

Quantum Electronics Conference, 1998. IQEC 98. Technical Digest. Summaries of papers presented at the International

Date of Conference:

8-8 May 1998