Bose-Einstein Condensate: The New Phase of Matter

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B E C: The New Phase of Matter

A new phase of matter has been discovered seventy years after Albert Einstein predicted it's existence. In this new state of matter, atoms do not move around like they would in an ordinary gas condensate. The atoms move in lock step with one another and have identical quantum properties. This will make it easier for physicists to research the mysterious properties of quantum mechanics. It was named "Molecule of the Year" because it was such a major discovery, but it is not a molecule at all. The phase, called the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) follows the laws of quantum physics.

In early 1995, scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the University of Colorado were the first to uncover the BEC. They magnetically trapped rubidium atoms and then supercooled the atoms to almost absolute zero. The graphic on the cover shows the Bose-Einstien condensation, where the atom's velocities peak at close to zero velocity, and the atoms slowly emerge from the condensate. The atoms were slowed to the low velocity by using laser beams. The hardware needed to create the BEC is a bargain at $50,000 to $1000,000 which makes it accessible to physics labs around the world.

The next step is to test the new phase of matter. We do not know yet if it absorbs, reflects,or refracts light. BEC is related to superconductivity and may unlock some mysteries of why some minerals are able to conduct electricity without resistance. The asymmetrical pattern of BEC is is thought by some astrophysicists to explain the bumpy distribution of matter in the early universe, a distribution that eventually led to the formation of galaxies. Physicists are working on creating an atom laser, using new technology derived from the BEC. The new lasers would be able to create etchings finer than those that etch silicon chips today.

The discovery of BEC has prompted a lot of research of the new phase. BEC is expected to yield...
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