Ultracold photoassociation spectroscopy: Long-range molecules and atomic scattering
Photoassociation is the process in which two colliding atoms absorb a photon to form an excited molecule. The development of laser-cooling techniques for producing gases at ultracold (<1 mK) temperatures allows photoassociation spectroscopy to be performed with very high spectral resolution. Of particular interest is the investigation of molecular states whose properties can be related, with high precision, to the properties of their constituent atoms with the “complications” of chemical binding accounted for by a few parameters. These include bound long-range or purely long-range vibrational states in which two atoms spend most or all of their time at large internuclear separations. Low-energy atomic scattering states also share this characteristic. Photoassociation techniques have made important contributions to the study of all of these. This review describes what is special about photoassociation spectroscopy at ultracold temperatures, how it is performed, and a sampling of results including the determination of scattering lengths, their control via optical Feshbach resonances, precision determinations of atomic lifetimes from molecular spectra, limits on photoassociation rates in a Bose-Einstein condensate, and briefly, production of cold molecules. Discussions are illustrated with examples on alkali-metal atoms as well as other species. Progress in the field is already past the point where this review can be exhaustive, but an introduction is provided on the capabilities of photoassociation spectroscopy and the techniques presently in use.