In March 2018, Researchers have launched into the International Space Station something resembling a white, cooler refrigerator. This heavy box houses a $ 100 million facility known as the Cold Atom Lab, which allows a series of atomic physics experiments to be performed at freezing temperatures in the zero-g space. Under these unique conditions, scientists have now created tiny bubbles of extremely cold gas atoms, putting them on the edge of the soil of quantum physics.
This achievement, possible only at microgravity and at one millionth of a degree above absolute zero, the minimum temperature of the universe, would be impossible to achieve on Earth. The team of physicists behind the landmark, who all work remotely — that is, on the ground — published their new research in the journal Nature last week, showing they made supercool bubbles with an experimental laser-emitting device in a sealed vacuum chamber to cool gas atoms. They then developed magnetic fields and radio waves to drop them into hollow egg-shaped drops. The experiment gives an idea of the quantum kingdom and has applications in other fields of physics.
“It’s fascinating to see people take on these new shapes and see new behaviors when you turn off gravity,” said study co-author David Aveline and co-founder of the Cold Atom Lab, which operates the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. of NASA. in Pasadena, California.
The supercooled gas atoms – in this case, the rubidium – do not act as usual at room temperature, zipping around their container like tiny billiard balls. As the gas cools, they move more and more slowly, but without the slow atoms turning into liquid or solid, as a vapor would. When they cool to near zero, they begin to accumulate and the wavelengths associated with the gas particles grow and begin to overlap.
At such extremely cold temperatures, individuals begin to act strangely. They combine into a substance with quantum properties, which behave both as particles and as waves. At that point, it’s basically a quantum paradox and almost like a new state of matter, called the Bose-Einstein condensate, named after Indian and German physicists a century ago. (Technically, supercool individuals need to cool down even more to be considered Bose-Einstein condensate, but they show signs of being on the verge of it.) In any case, while quantum phenomena usually require powerful microscopes to observe, these bubbles can swell to a size much larger than the width of a human hair.
“We take purely natural effects that normally occur on the atomic scale, and make them occur in objects up to a millimeter in size, trying to make quantum mechanics and strange physical behavior visible to the naked eye. Says Nathan Lundblad, an atomic physicist at Bates College in Maine and lead author of the study.
This research could have applications beyond the world of quantum physics. One reason NASA is interested is because such work on superhumans could eventually help develop more expensive gyroscopes and accelerometers, says Aveline. Inflating a bubble of supercool individuals could also give an idea of the extremely rapid expansion of the baby universe a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.