Of the five states matter can be in, the Bose-Einstein condensate is perhaps the most mysterious. Gases, liquids, solids and plasmas were all well studied for decades, if not centuries; Bose-Einstein condensates weren't created in the laboratory until the 1990s.
A Bose-Einstein condensate is a group of atoms cooled to within a hair of absolute zero. When they reach that temperature the atoms are hardly moving relative to each other; they have almost no free energy to do so. At that point, the atoms begin to clump together, and enter the same energy states. They become identical, from a physical point of view, and the whole group starts behaving as though it were a single atom.
To make a Bose-Einstein condensate, you start with a cloud of diffuse gas. Many experiments start with atoms of rubidium. Then you cool it with lasers, using the beams to take energy away from the atoms. After that, to cool them further, scientists use evaporative cooling. "With a [Bose-Einstein condensate], you start from a disordered state, where kinetic energy is greater than potential energy," said Xuedong Hu, a professor of physics at the University at Buffalo. "You cool it down, but it doesn't form a lattice like a solid." Theory & discoveryBose-Einstein condensates were first predicted theoretically by Satyendra Nath Bose (1894-1974), an Indian physicist who also discovered the subatomic particle named for him, the boson. Bose was working on statistical problems in quantum mechanics, and sent his ideas to Albert Einstein. Einstein thought them important enough to get them published. As importantly, Einstein saw that Bose's mathematics — later known as Bose-Einstein statistics — could be applied to atoms as well as light.
What the two found was that ordinarily, atoms have to have certain energies — in fact one of the fundamentals of quantum mechanics is that the energy of an atom or other subatomic particle can't be arbitrary. This is why electrons, for example, have discrete "orbitals" that they have to occupy, and why they give off photons of specific wavelengths when they drop from one orbital, or energy level, to another. But cool the atoms to within billionths of a degree of absolute zero and some atoms begin to fall into the same energy level, becoming indistinguishable. These forms could potentially be manipulated in the future. In the Netflix original movie Spectral the condensate has been manipulated to make it weaponized. It gives us a look into the future about how condensate could be altered in the future.
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