A quantum Newton's cradle

Nature. 2006 Apr 13;440(7086):900-3. doi: 10.1038/nature04693.


It is a fundamental assumption of statistical mechanics that a closed system with many degrees of freedom ergodically samples all equal energy points in phase space. To understand the limits of this assumption, it is important to find and study systems that are not ergodic, and thus do not reach thermal equilibrium. A few complex systems have been proposed that are expected not to thermalize because their dynamics are integrable. Some nearly integrable systems of many particles have been studied numerically, and shown not to ergodically sample phase space. However, there has been no experimental demonstration of such a system with many degrees of freedom that does not approach thermal equilibrium. Here we report the preparation of out-of-equilibrium arrays of trapped one-dimensional (1D) Bose gases, each containing from 40 to 250 (87)Rb atoms, which do not noticeably equilibrate even after thousands of collisions. Our results are probably explainable by the well-known fact that a homogeneous 1D Bose gas with point-like collisional interactions is integrable. Until now, however, the time evolution of out-of-equilibrium 1D Bose gases has been a theoretically unsettled issue, as practical factors such as harmonic trapping and imperfectly point-like interactions may compromise integrability. The absence of damping in 1D Bose gases may lead to potential applications in force sensing and atom interferometry.