Abstract

Collisions of ultracold atoms can now be investigated in the laboratory at temperatures below 0.001 K. Such collisions are qualitatively different in many ways from collisions at normal energies, where T ≫ 1 K, because of the long time and distance scales associated with such collisions. Spontaneous emission can strongly modify collision dynamics of excited-state species produced by near-resonant optical excitation if the temperature is less than the characteristic temperature TS, where the collision time is comparable with the spontaneous-emission lifetime. We also estimate the temperature TQ that is characteristic of the onset of quantum threshold behavior, where the WKB approximation fails to apply as the de Broglie wavelength becomes large. We find that TQ is generally larger than TD, the Doppler cooling limit, except for collisions controlled by long-range potentials varying as 1/R3.TQ may be larger or smaller than TS. Expressions for estimating the magnitude of rate coefficients in the T → 0 limit are given. As an example, a model for the threshold behavior of Penning ionization of two He 3S1 metastable atoms is given, and the threshold rate coefficient is estimated to be >5 × 10−10 cm3 sec−1.

© 1989 Optical Society of America

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