Nature 454, 739-743 (7 August 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07176; Received 3 February 2008; Accepted 17 June 2008

Determination of the fermion pair size in a resonantly interacting superfluid

Christian H. Schunck1, Yong-il Shin1, André Schirotzek1 & Wolfgang Ketterle1

  1. Department of Physics, MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms, and Research Laboratory of Electronics, MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA

Correspondence to: Christian H. Schunck1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.H.S. (Email: chs@mit.edu).

Fermionic superfluidity requires the formation of particle pairs, the size of which varies from the femtometre scale in neutron stars and nuclei to the micrometre scale in conventional superconductors. Many properties of the superfluid depend on the pair size relative to the interparticle spacing. This is expressed in 'BCS–BEC crossover' theories1, 2, 3, describing the crossover from a Bardeen–Cooper–Schrieffer (BCS)-type superfluid of loosely bound, large Cooper pairs to Bose–Einstein condensates (BECs) of tightly bound molecules. Such a crossover superfluid has been realized in ultracold atomic gases where high-temperature superfluidity has been observed4, 5. The microscopic properties of the fermion pairs can be probed using radio-frequency spectroscopy. However, previous work6, 7, 8 was difficult to interpret owing to strong final-state interactions that were not well understood. Here we realize a superfluid spin mixture in which such interactions have negligible influence and present fermion pair dissociation spectra that reveal the underlying pairing correlations. This allows us to determine that the spectroscopic pair size in the resonantly interacting gas is 20 per cent smaller than the interparticle spacing. These are the smallest pairs so far observed in fermionic superfluids, highlighting the importance of small fermion pairs for superfluidity at high critical temperatures9. We have also identified transitions from fermion pairs to bound molecular states and to many-body bound states in the case of strong final-state interactions.


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