Ionization of Rydberg atoms at patterned electrode arrays
Lithographically patterned micrometer-scale electrode arrays are used to examine the effects of controlled surface electric fields on Rydberg-atom–surface interactions. The data show that application of modest electrode biases (∼±1 V) can lead to a transition from ionization of the incident atoms by short-range tunneling to field ionization well above the target surface. The resulting ions can be efficiently detected using ion collection fields whose strengths are substantially smaller than those required for direct field ionization pointing to the application of surface ionization in the detection of low-n Rydberg atoms. The data are analyzed with the aid of a Monte Carlo model and further demonstrate the critical role that local surface fields can play in governing the nature of atom-surface interactions.