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How does a dual-isotope rubidium magnetometer work?

March 16, 2011

Category: A Closer Look

Magnetometer for studying affect of gravity on spinning atoms at CSU East Bay

Let’s hear from CSU East Bay physics professor Derek Kimball.

After all, the machine is in his lab, where he uses it to try to see how gravity alone might alter the axis of a spinning atom.  (His work is mentioned in “Trying to Catch Gravitational Waves,” the latest  feature in “A Closer Look.” )

So, Dr. Kimball, how does a dual-isotope rubidium magnetometer work?

“The rubidium atoms are contained in a glass cell with special anti-relaxation coating on the inner surface that enables atomic spins to remain polarized (oriented in a particular direction) for up to one million bounces off the cell walls.

“The cell is contained inside a set of coils which is within a five-layer magnetic shield. (The large, cylindrical metal object in the center of the table is the outermost magnetic shield.) The shield reduces external magnetic fields by a factor of 10 million, while the coils allow us to apply a precisely controlled magnetic field to the rubidium atoms.

“The table is filled with lasers and optics that enable us to polarize the atomic spins and probe the spin precession frequency.”

Shown above in the lab in 2007 are, left to right, Associate Professor Derek Kimball (with daughter Paloma on shoulders), CSU East Bay students Valentin Dutertre, Rene Jacome (now a graduate student at Pennsylvania State University), Eric Bahr and Srikanth Guttikonda.

Dual-isotope magnetometer with Einstein insert.At right is the dual-isotope rubidium magnetometer as seen through a mono-einsteinium filter.

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