In the optical excitation of atoms with polarized light, producing excited atoms, only some of the Zeeman sublevels of the excited state are actually reached, so that large differences of population can be built up between Zeeman sublevels or between hyperfine structure (hfs) levels. This property can be used to detect radio-frequency resonance in optically excited atomic states. These resonances produce a characteristic change in intensity or in the degree of polarization of the light re-emitted. Zeeman intervals, Stark effects, and hfs intervals can be measured in this manner. (The Stark constant of the 63P1 level of Hg and the electric quadrupole moments of the alkali atoms have been obtained in this way.)
The technique of “optical pumping” gives a way to concentrate atoms in some of the Zeeman sublevels of one of the hfs levels of the ground state.
Atomic orientation has been obtained with the Na atom, in an atomic beam and in the vapor in equilibrium with the metal. The orientation effects have been studied by detection of radio-frequency resonance signals in the ground state. Orientation can be increased many times by adding a variable pressure of a foreign gas to the pure Na vapor. Because of the coupling between nuclear spin and electron spin, nuclear orientation is produced at the same time as atomic orientation.
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