Laser Cooling and Trapping of Neutral Strontium for Spectroscopic Measurements of Casimir-Polder Potentials
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Casimir and Casimir-Polder effects are forces between electrically neutral bodies and particles in vacuum, arising entirely from quantum fluctuations. The modification to the vacuum electromagnetic-field modes imposed by the presence of any particle or surface can result in these mechanical forces, which are often the dominant interaction at small separations. These effects play an increasingly critical role in the operation of micro- and nano-mechanical systems as well as miniaturized atomic traps for precision sensors and quantum-information devices. Despite their fundamental importance, calculations present theoretical and numeric challenges, and precise atom-surface potential measurements are lacking in many geometric and distance regimes. The spectroscopic measurement of Casimir-Polder-induced energy level shifts in optical-lattice trapped atoms offers a new experimental method to probe atom-surface interactions. Strontium, the current front-runner among optical frequency metrology systems, has demonstrated characteristics ideal for such precision measurements. An alkaline earth atom possessing ultra-narrow intercombination transitions, strontium can be loaded into an optical lattice at the “magic” wavelength where the probe transition is unperturbed by the trap light. Translation of the lattice will permit controlled transport of tightly-confined atomic samples to well-calibrated atom- surface separations, while optical transition shifts serve as a direct probe of the Casimir-Polder potential. We have constructed a strontium magneto-optical trap (MOT) for future Casimir-Polder experiments. This thesis will describe the strontium apparatus, initial trap performance, and some details of the proposed measurement procedure.