Development of a Strontium Magneto-Optical Trap for Probing Casimir–Polder Potentials
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In recent years, cold atoms have been the centerpiece of many remarkably sensitive measurements, and much effort has been made to devise miniaturized quantum sensors and quantum information processing devices. At small distances, however, mechanical effects of the quantum vacuum begin to significantly impact the behavior of the cold-atom systems. A better understanding of how surface composition and geometry affect Casimir and Casimir--Polder potentials would benefit future engineering of small-scale devices. Unfortunately, theoretical solutions are limited and the number of experimental techniques that can accurately detect such short-range forces is relatively small. We believe the exemplary properties of atomic strontium---which have enabled unprecedented frequency metrology in optical lattice clocks---make it an ideal candidate for probing slight spectroscopic perturbations caused by vacuum fluctuations. To that end, we have constructed a magneto-optical trap for strontium to enable future study of atom--surface potentials, and the apparatus and proposed detection scheme are discussed herein. Of special note is a passively stable external-cavity diode laser we developed that is both affordable and competitive with high-end commercial options.