Pointing the way

New Compass Uses Light Beams to Detect Magnetic Field
“Zibrov and his colleagues wanted to create a compass that could directly pinpoint the direction and the size of a magnetic field. To do that, they relied on a technique that used a magnetically sensitive cloud of atoms and a laser. In their experiment, the team trapped rubidium-87 atoms at 113 degrees Fahrenheit in a domino-sized chip and shined linearly polarized light into the atoms. The light was filtered so that it had the same direction, like the light that makes it through polarized sunglasses. In the presence of a magnetic field, the atoms’ orientation changed in a particular way, and this change was detectable in the light that came through the atom cloud, the team found. This change in transmission allowed the researchers to find the size and direction of the magnetic field at the same time.”

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