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Tracking or tagging a single atom in a gas

  1. Sep 21, 2007 #1

    learningphysics

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    Is there currently any way to tag or track a single atom in a gas of the same material?What I mean is there any distinguishing feature of a single atom among the others in a gas, that can be detected... hope I'm making sense.

    Thanks.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 21, 2007 #2

    f95toli

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    Well, you can "tag" atoms by simply using different isotopes. This is used for example in PET scans (using e.g. oxygen 15, "normal oxygen" being oxygen 16).
    At least in principle it should therefore be possible to track a single atom (using e.g. fluoresence, assuming the different isotopes have slightly shifted energy levels) in a gas.
     
  4. Sep 21, 2007 #3

    learningphysics

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    Thanks f95toli. Is there any technique by which atoms of exactly the same kind can be tracked... not using isotopes...

    What I'm getting at is... would it be possible to number the different atoms in a gas... is there perhaps some quantum level property that can be given to one atom that distinguishes it from the rest.
     
  5. Sep 22, 2007 #4
    possibly it's spin? i'm not sure how you would go about tracking it though
     
  6. Sep 22, 2007 #5
    i don't think in the language of quantum mechanics you can do this
     
  7. Sep 22, 2007 #6
    Probably not for very long. Sure, you could prepare one molecule in a certain state different from all the rest, but that state would probably decohere quickly.
     
  8. Sep 22, 2007 #7
    Are atomic quanta distinguishable?

    http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/cgi-bin/abstract/75504948/ABSTRACT?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0

     
  9. Sep 23, 2007 #8

    learningphysics

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    Thanks to everyone for replying.
     
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