Last week a team of NASA scientists aboard the Cold Atom Lab in International Space Station, revealed startling results from experiments regarding the formation of fifth state of matter, called the Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC). The findings were later published in the reputed science journal Nature.
Crux of the Matter
What Is The Fifth State Of Matter? In modern physics, 23 states of low and high energy matter have been discovered to date. 4 main states of matter known in classical physics are gases, liquids, solids, and plasmas. However, there also exists a fifth state called Bose-Einstein Condensates (BECs) in quantum mechanics. Its name originates from the fact that renowned physicist Albert Einstein first predicted this state, who credited the discovery to the pioneering paper on quantum statistics by the Indian mathematician Satyendra Nath Bose.
What Happened Up There? Researchers were able to create BEC in various labs on earth, with the limitation of gravity. The condensates are incredibly fragile and thus delicate setups are used to create them. Subsequently, Earth’s gravitational pull can disrupt the process. This blip could be solved in the lab on ISS, where BEC could be easily formed in the microgravity found in orbit. Moreover, the equipment on earth took an entire lab space while up above, BEC formation took comparatively very less space – 0.4 cubic meters and power – 510 watts.
BEC was first created in the lab 25 years ago when a group of atoms was cooled to near absolute zero (0 Kelvin, -273.15 Celsius). The atoms then began to clump together, behaving like they were one big “super-atom.”
Significance In the arena of quantum mechanics, a particle behaves as if it were spinning in two opposite directions at the same time, or it can exist in two or more locations simultaneously. BEC has the key to offering scientists clues into the working of these mechanics and in helping solve mysteries like the ‘Theory of Everything‘.
The groundbreaking theory given by popular cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking, explains the workings of the cosmos from the smallest to largest scales, combining all fundamentals of physics into a unified form.
Absolute zero is the lowest limit of the thermodynamic temperature scale, a state at which the enthalpy and entropy of a cooled ideal gas reach their minimum value, taken as zero kelvins. One of the first to discuss the possibility of an absolute minimum temperature was Robert Boyle.
Satyendra Nath Bose was an Indian mathematician and physicist specializing in theoretical physics. He is best known for his work on quantum mechanics in the early 1920s, collaboration with Albert Einstein in developing the foundation for Bose-Einstein statistics and the theory of the Bose-Einstein Condensate. The class of particles that obey Bose-Einstein statistics, Bosons, was named after Bose by Paul Dirac.
This fifth state of matter was first predicted, generally, in 1924–1925 by Albert Einstein following and crediting a pioneering paper by Satyendra Nath Bose on the new field now known as quantum statistics.