As a group of Cornell physicists have recently discovered, atoms won't move while observing them. In their tests graduate students Yogesh Patil and Srivatsan Chakram locked a particular gas, consisting of roughly a billion Rubidium atoms, in a vacuum chamber to cool. They then dangled the mass between a set of laser beams, so that the atoms would arrange the same way they would in a crystalline solid.
Because these atoms are concealed away at such low temperatures, they're able to move around freely by "tunneling" to different positions. This means that when you look at them, they could be anywhere within the arranged lattice.
But, when researchers would take a look at the atoms, they realized that the tunneling would come to a halt. This is the "Quantum Zeno effect," ladies and gentlemen, and as scientists have discovered, it's very real. The Zeno effect was proposed by E.C. George Sudarshan and Baidyanath Misra at UT Austin in 1977. It was then that it was first suggested that repeated measurements would, oddly enough, bring quantum systems to a pause.
Previously, the Zeno effect could only be exhibited by spinning subatomic particles.
"This is the first observation of the Quantum Zeno effect by real space measurement of atomic motion," said Cornell's assistant professor of physics Mukund Vengalattore.
Additionally, he noted that because of the experiments conducted by he and his students, they've been able to 'tune' the way they look at atoms. This, in turn, allows them to perform 'emergent classicality,' an effect that suppresses the Zeno effect, allowing researchers to proceed with their observations.
This can allegedly allow scientists to wield the quatum states of atoms in their own favor, leading to the conception of new types of sensors.