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Scientists Create "Fifth State of Matter" On The I.S.S.

NASA's Cold Atom Laboratory is one of the coldest places in the Universe

By Silek Thu 02 Jul, 2020 7:26 PM
Matter is everywhere. At least it seems like it is. It can't be created, nor destroyed, and turns into energy if it gets moving fast enough, apparently. During the course of my daily life, I give very little thought to states of various matter. I can remember hearing about plasma for the first time as one of these states and was sure that within a few years we would see the military sporting a new suite of weapons systems.

Things are often different than how we first imagine them, and as it turned out there were a slew of different states of matter. Depending on which particle accelerator you pray at, scientists consider there to be 13-15 different states of matter. Most of us are familiar with the big four, Solid, Gas, Liquid, and Plasma. These are referred to as the Four Fundamental states

It was only in 1920 that the Fourth State of matter's name had been coined by Irving Langmuir. He christened it 'Plasma', and it was shortly after discovered that this was a natural state for matter to be in, and was in fact a Fundamental State.

Not to be outdone, in 1924, Albert Einstein and Satyendra Bose predicted a new, Fifth State among the Low Temperature States of matter called the "Bose–Einstein Condensate.” BEC%20Formation
Velocity-distribution data showing
Bose-Einstein condensate formation.

A Bose- Einstein Condensate (BEC) comes into being when a low density gas of bosons is brought to a temperature near absolute zero. Under these conditions, a large percentage of bosons occupy the lowest quantum state. Here, microscopic quantum phenomena become apparent macroscopically, specifically wavefunction interference.

This material's behavior would seem to include characteristics of classical physics, and also quantum mechanics.

In the quantum world, particles can exhibit behaviors not seen in classical physics. A particle can be observed spinning in several different directions at once, or even be in different places at the same time.

Although mathematically probable, it wasn't until 1995 that the first BEC was produced at the University of Colorado at Boulder NIST/JILA Laboratory, by Eric Cornel and Carl Wieman using rubidium atoms. At about the same time, Wolfgang Ketterle at MIT produced the same results with sodium atoms.

In 2011 Cornell, Wieman, and Ketterle were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Physics for their achievement.

BECs are routinely produced around the world by hundreds of research groups, but our understanding of them and the way they act had been inhibited by the confinements of the area in which they are studied. It is gravity in fact, that makes the study of these BECs, once produced, so difficult. With the little mass that BECs contain, the effect of the Earth's gravity plays a huge negative role in this type of research, pulling the BECs to the center of the planet in such a short amount of time, it is difficult to examine them fully.

In the field of ultra cold atoms, this was the reality, and remained so until 2018.

The Cold Atom Laboratory – ISS

When NASA first announced the Cold Atom Lab (CAL) in 2012, it was praised and lauded by scientific communities around the world. With it, NASA would be able to create one of the coldest places in the Universe, free from the Earth's gravitational pull. It would use magnetic traps to catch particles and cool them to temperatures just slightly above absolute zero. NASA%20Astronaut%20Christina%20Koch%20Installing%20The%20CAL
NASA Astronaut Christina Koch installing
the CAL on the ISS

Rob Thompson, Project Scientist for the Cold Atom Lab said, "We're going to study matter at temperatures far colder than are found naturally. We aim to push effective temperatures down to 100 pico-Kelvin"—one ten billionth of a degree above absolute zero. The Cold Atom Lab will allow us to study these objects at perhaps the lowest temperatures ever ”

On the ISS, and within it's micro-gravity, the CAL can generate BECs with two distinct advantages over their Terran bound brethren.

Without gravity pulling on them, scientists have more time to observe and study the BECs, before they fall out of the trap, exponentially expanding the amount of research able to be captured and studied. The CAL team concluded that in their laboratory, scientists have up to one second to observe the material after the traps are turned off. In comparison, on Earth, scientists would have only 1/100th of a second to do the same thing.

Additionally, with these weaker forces being applied to them, BEC's can also be created at lower temperatures producing more activity and more results in this less frigid state.

"In the past, our major insights into the inner workings of nature have come from particle accelerators and astronomical observatories; in the future, I believe precision measurements using cold atoms will play an increasingly important role. We're entering the unknown." Thompson said.
Thu 02 Jul, 2020 10:11 PM
Very interesting article, Silek Smile
Fri 03 Jul, 2020 3:33 AM
Nice, love these kinds of articles!
Sat 04 Jul, 2020 8:17 AM
Thank you for this very interesting article, Silek! Well done! Smile