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Optical response of gas-phase atoms at less than λ/80 from a dielectric surface.

Whittaker, K. A. and Keaveney, J. and Hughes, I. G. and Sargsyan, A. and Sarkisyan, D. and Adams, C. S. (2014) 'Optical response of gas-phase atoms at less than λ/80 from a dielectric surface.', Physical review letters., 112 . p. 253201.


We present experimental observations of atom-light interactions within tens of nanometers (down to 11 nm) of a sapphire surface. Using photon counting we detect the fluorescence from of order one thousand Rb or Cs atoms, confined in a vapor with thickness much less than the optical excitation wavelength. The asymmetry in the spectral line shape provides a direct readout of the atom-surface potential. A numerical fit indicates a power law −Cα/rα with α=3.02±0.06 confirming that the van der Waals interaction dominates over other effects. The extreme sensitivity of our photon-counting technique may allow the search for atom-surface bound states.

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Publisher statement:Published by the American Physical Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License. Further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the published article’s title, journal citation, and DOI.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:16 July 2014
Date of first online publication:26 June 2014
Date first made open access:No date available

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