Single-Photon Atomic Sorting: Isotope Separation with Maxwell’s Demon

Author :M. Jerkins, I. Chavez, U. Even, and M. G. Raizen
Publication :submitted
Year :2010

Isotope separation is one of the grand challenges of modern society and holds great potential
for basic science, medicine, energy, and defense. We consider here a new and general approach to
isotope separation. The method is based on an irreversible change of the mass-to-magnetic moment
ratio of a particular isotope in an atomic beam, followed by a magnetic multipole whose gradients
deflect and guide the atoms. The underlying mechanism is a reduction of the entropy of the beam
by the information of a single-scattered photon for each atom that is separated. We numerically
simulate isotope separation for a range of examples, including lithium, for which we describe the
experimental setup we are currently constructing. Simulations of other examples demonstrate this
technique’s general applicability to almost the entire periodic table. We show that the efficiency of
the process is only limited by the available laser power, since one photon on average enables the
separation of one atom. The practical importance of the proposed method is that large-scale isotope
separation should be possible, using ordinary inexpensive magnets and the existing technologies of
supersonic beams and lasers.