Throwback Thursday: The Birth of a Bose-Einstein Condensate

Twenty-one years ago, researchers at University of Colorado put the predictions of Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein to the test, resulting in the first gaseous condensate.

Known now as a Bose-Einstein Condensate, the state of matter refers to a diluted gas of bosons, which are cooled to temperatures close to absolute zero. When exposed to this temperature, the majority of the bosons are in the lowest possible quantum state. Once in this state, the bosons show quantum qualities at the macroscopic, rather than atomic level. This behavior is known as macroscopic quantum phenomena.

June 5th, 1995 saw the birth of the very first pure Bose-Einstein Condensate. Using the diluted vapors of nearly 2,000 rubidium-87 atoms, researchers Eric Cornell, Carl Wieman, and staff cooled the atoms, using a combination of lasers and a process known as magnetic evaporative cooling.

Compared to other states of matter, the Bose-Einstein Condensate is fairly fragile. Disruptions to the surrounding environment can affect the temperature of the condensate, bringing it to a standard gaseous state. That is not to say that the Bose-Einstein condensate is too unstable for practical research, but rather that it has opened many doors into theoretical and experimental research in physical properties, and beyond.

Since its origin in the mid-1990’s, the Bose-Einstein Condensate has been used to slow light pulses to low speeds. Others are using it as a way to model black holes to study their properties, in an observable environment. Using an optical lattice, or “the interference of counter-propagating laser beams,” allows researchers to observe the Bose-Einstein condensate in less than three dimensions.

In recent years, researchers in the emerging field of atomtronics utilize the concepts of the Bose-Einstein Condensate to manipulate groups of identical atoms using lasers. Atomtronics is defined as the “creation of atomic analogues of electronic components.” In layman terms, atomtronics utilize super-cooled atoms to, theoretically, replace traditional analogues found in the electronics we use everyday. The flow of the condensate is similar to that of an electric current, priming it as a potential successor to traditional electronics.

The Boss-Einstein Condensate was initially theorized nearly a century ago. Two decades have passed since the theories were first put to the test. Today, the once-theoretical state of matter is used, often hand in hand with laser cooling, to challenge what we know about the study of physics and beyond.  While atomtronics will not be replacing our electronic devices any time soon, it is a study worth noting as many seek alternatives to our current energy consumption.

About the Author
Steven Glover is a proud member of the LIA staff. When he is not at work he is actively involved in several charitable efforts.
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