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Contact: Dr. Tanja Mehlstäubler
Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB)

Example of a Break in Symmetry

Caption: The picture shows ytterbium ions in an ion Coulomb crystal, taken with an EMCCD camera (electron multiplying CCD camera). The ionized atoms fluoresce in the laser light; the distance between the ions is approx. 10µm to 20 µm. (a) Radial symmetry: At a high radial trap enclosure, the ionized atoms line up like a string of pearls. The radial potential felt by the positively charged particles is depicted at the bottom left. (b) Mirror symmetry: If the strength of the radial enclosure changes, the ions become free to avoid each other, and the crystal adopts a new, energetically more favourable structure. Hereby, two energetically equivalent configurations can be chosen from. Areas which do not communicate with each other decide independently of each other on a new orientation. Topological defects occur where two areas which have made different "decisions" collide. The black-and-white images show fluorescing ytterbium ions.

Credit: PTB

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