Nonequilibrium forces between neutral atoms mediated by a quantum field

Ryan O. Behunin, Bei Lok Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


We study forces between two neutral atoms, modeled as three-dimensional harmonic oscillators, arising from mutual influences mediated by an electromagnetic field but not from their direct interactions. We allow as dynamical variables the center-of-mass motion of the atom, its internal degrees of freedom, and the quantum field treated relativistically. We adopt the method of nonequilibrium quantum field theory which can provide a first-principles, systematic, and unified description including the intrinsic and induced dipole fluctuations. The inclusion of self-consistent back-actions makes possible a fully dynamical description of these forces valid for general atom motion. In thermal equilibrium we recover the known forces-London, van der Waals, and Casimir-Polder-between neutral atoms in the long-time limit. We also reproduce a recently reported force between atoms when the system is out of thermal equilibrium at late times. More noteworthy is the discovery of the existence of a type of (or identification of the source of some known) interatomic force which we call the "entanglement force," originating from the quantum correlations of the internal degrees of freedom of entangled atoms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number022507
JournalPhysical Review A - Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 12 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics


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