Bose-Einstein condensates are sometimes referred to as a “fifth state of matter”, a rare state or phase in which all the particles share the same quantum state. This phase was predicted by Satyendranath Bose and Albert Einstein in 1924. In 1995, by cooling 2,000 rubidium atoms to a temperature less than 100 billionths of a degree above absolute zero (100 billionths of a degree Kelvin), Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman caused the atoms to lose for a full 10 seconds their individual identities and behave as though they were a single “superatom”. The atoms’ physical properties, such as their motions, became identical to one another. This Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), the first observed in a gas, can be thought of as the matter counterpart of the laser. However, crucially in the condensate it is the atoms, rather than photons, that act in perfectunison. For their achievements in being the first to provide experimental proof of the existence of the Bose-Einstein condensate the 2001 Nobel Prize in physics was awarded to Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman at the University of Colorado in Boulder and Wolfgang Ketterle at MIT.

For interesting background information on Bose Einstein Condensates and laser cooling please see the NOVA website on PBS.  See also the YouTube submission by NASA on the Cold Atom Lab: The Coolest Spot in the Universe

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