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We theoretically discuss the interaction of neutral particles (atoms, molecules) with surfaces in the regime where it is mediated by the electromagnetic field. A thorough characterization of the field at sub-wavelength distances is worked out, including energy density spectra and coherence functions. The results are applied to typical situations in integrated atom optics, where ultracold atoms are coupled to a thermal surface, and to single molecule probes in near field optics, where sub-wavelength resolution can be achieved.

The coherence length of the thermal electromagnetic field near a planar surface has a minimum value related to the nonlocal dielectric response of the material. We perform two model calculations of the electric energy density and the field's degree of spatial coherence. Above a polar crystal, the lattice constant gives the minimum coherence length. It also gives the upper limit to the near field energy density, cutting off its 1/z(3) divergence. Near an electron plasma described by the semiclassical Lindhard dielectric function, the corresponding length scale is fixed by plasma screening to the Thomas-Fermi length. The electron mean free path, however, sets a larger scale where significant deviations from the local description are visible

We discuss the impact of thermally excited near fields on the coherent expansion of a condensate in a miniaturized electromagnetic trap. Monte Carlo simulations are compared with a kinetic two-component theory and indicate that atom interactions can slow down decoherence. This is explained by a simple theory in terms of the condensate dynamic structure factor

We discuss the dynamics of a condensate in a miniaturized electromagnetic trap formed above a microstructured substrate. Recent experiments have found that trap lifetimes get reduced when approaching the substrate because atoms couple to thermally excited near fields. The data agree quantitatively with our theory [Appl. Phys. B 69, 379 (1999)]. We focus on the decoherence of a quantum degenerate gas in a quasi-one-dimensional trap. Monte Carlo simulations indicate that atom interactions reduce the condensate decoherence rate. This is explained by a simple theory in terms of the suppression of long-wavelength excitations. We present preliminary simulation results for the adiabatic generation of dark solitons

The Casimir force between metallic plates made of realistic materials is evaluated for distances in the nanometer range. A spectrum over real frequencies is introduced and shows narrow peaks due to surface resonances (plasmon polaritons or phonon polaritons) that are coupled across the vacuum gap. We demonstrate that the Casimir force originates from the attraction (repulsion) due to the corresponding symmetric (antisymmetric) eigenmodes, respectively. This picture is used to derive a simple analytical estimate of the Casimir force at short distances. We recover the result known for Drude metals without absorption and compute the correction for weakly absorbing materials

We propose an optical ring interferometer to observe environment-induced spatial decoherence of massive objects. The object is held in a harmonic trap and scatters light between degenerate modes of a ring cavity. The output signal of the interferometer permits to monitor the spatial width of the object's wave function. It shows oscillations that arise from coherences between energy eigenstates and that reveal the difference between pure spatial decoherence and that coinciding with energy transfer and heating. Our method is designed to work with a wide variety of masses, ranging from the atomic scale to nanofabricated structures. We give a thorough discussion of its experimental feasibility

We study the optical forces due to the radiation of a thermal source. Our model consists of a particle modelled by a dipole above a half-space at temperature T. The fluctuating fields are computed using the Lifshitz model. We find two contributions to the force: a repulsive "wind" component and a dispersive force mainly due to the contribution of thermally excited surface waves. It is found that for SIC material, the latter is repulsive in the very near field. The usual van der Waals force is larger by a factor of approximately ten for submicron size particles.

The existing optical microscopes form an image by collecting photons emitted from an object. Here we report on the experimental realization of microscopy without the need for direct optical communication with the sample. To achieve this, we have scanned a single gold nanoparticle acting as a nanoantenna in the near field of a sample and have studied the modification of its intrinsic radiative properties by monitoring its plasmon spectrum

We develop an effective low-frequency theory of the electromagnetic field in equilibrium with thermal objects. The aim is to compute thermal magnetic noise spectra close to metallic microstructures. We focus on the limit where the material response is characterised by the electric conductivity. At the boundary between empty space and metallic microstructures, a large jump occurs in the dielectric function which leads to a partial screening of low-frequency magnetic fields generated by thermal current fluctuations. We resolve a, discrepancy between two approaches used in the past to compute magnetic field noise spectra close to microstructured materials