Thursday, September 28, 2006

To Get to the Fifth State of Matter, Turn Left at 19th and Kelvin

When the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose wrote his article "Planck's Law and the Hypothesis of Light Quanta" in 1924, he was unable to get it published and ridiculed for what was simply considered an embarrassing statistical error. In desperation over the physics journals' continued rejections of his article, Bose sent it directly to the physicist he admired the most: none other than Albert Einstein. The german scientist immediately realized the importance of Bose's findings, translated the paper to german and got it published in "Zeitschrift für Physik." He even added the note: "An important forward step."

Einsteins contribution did not stop there. He also realized that the strange behavior Bose described for photons - the particles of light - would also apply to atoms. This lead to the prediction of a strange fifth state of matter: the Bose-Einstein condensate. A state of matter where the individual atoms would all be at the same energy level, and thus appear undistinguishable from each other. As if the lump of matter is made out of one huge super-particle.

It took 70 years from Einstein's prediction and until this strange fifth state of matter could be observed. But in 1995 two american researchers at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics, Eric Allin Cornell and Carl E. Wieman, managed to cool down a vapour of Rubidium atoms to a temperature of Less than one millionth of a degree above Absolute Zero, and the predicted state of matter indeed appeared. They were later awarded a shared nobel price together with Wolfgang Ketterle for this accomplishment.


Post a Comment

<< Home