Candidate for Laser Cooling of a Negative Ion: High-Resolution Photoelectron Imaging of Th^{-}

Phys Rev Lett. 2019 Nov 15;123(20):203002. doi: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.123.203002.


Laser cooling is a well-established technique for the creation of ensembles of ultracold neutral atoms or positive ions. This ability has opened many exciting new research fields over the past 40 years. However, no negatively charged ions have been directly laser cooled because a cycling transition is very rare in atomic anions. Efforts of more than a decade currently have La^{-} as the most promising candidate. We report on experimental and theoretical studies supporting Th^{-} as a new promising candidate for laser cooling. The measured and calculated electron affinities of Th are, respectively, 4901.35(48) cm^{-1} and 4832 cm^{-1}, or 0.607 690(60) and 0.599 eV, almost a factor of 2 larger than the previous theoretical value of 0.368 eV. The ground state of Th^{-} is determined to be 6d^{3}7s^{2} ^{4}F_{3/2}^{e} rather than 6d^{2}7s^{2}7p ^{4}G_{5/2}^{o}. The consequence of this is that there are several strong electric dipole transitions between the bound levels arising from configurations 6d^{3}7s^{2} and 6d^{2}7s^{2}7p in Th^{-}. The potential laser-cooling transition is ^{2}S_{1/2}^{o}↔^{4}F_{3/2}^{e} with a wavelength of 2.6 μm. The zero nuclear spin and hence lack of hyperfine structure in Th^{-} reduces the potential complications in laser cooling as encountered in La^{-}, making Th^{-} a new and exciting candidate for laser cooling.