In part 1, we spoke about Plasma being the fourth state of matter. It occurs when a gas absorbs so much energy (by heating for example), such that electrons cannot stay in orbit around their nucleus in the atoms within this heated gas. Let’s work the other way. Can we cool a solid so much that it behaves in a way so different such that it becomes another state of matter?
What is Heat?
In simple terms, heat is kinetic energy; or just a measure of movement. The more vigorous the movement of particles, the higher the temperature; which is why gases are always hotter than liquids, that are always hotter than solids (at constant pressure).
The colder a substance gets, the less movement there is within its molecules.
Theoretically, this means that if we suck all this energy out of a substance – it cannot get any colder, right? Correct; and this temperature is known as Absolute Zero.
Absolute zero is equivalent to -273.15 Degrees Celsius or 0 Kelvin . Unfortunately, at this temperature no one knows what happens as we physically cannot cool something down to the point where the system has no energy; it is literally impossible. You can blame Quantum Physics for that – it states that there must be some sort of movement at all times.
Getting closer to Absolute Zero
Scientists are constantly trying to reach Absolute Zero all the time. In fact, we have got pretty darn close. You may be thinking; why are we trying to get to something we know we can’t reach? This is because something incredible happens when we reach below a millionth of a degree above Absolute Zero. That is less than 0.0000001 Kelvin, or -273.1499999 Degrees Celsius! At temperatures as extreme as that, you produce a new state of matter… the Bose-Einstein Condensate. Have we even reached these ridiculous temperatures? We sure have !
The Fifth State of Matter: Bose-Einstein Condensate
A Bose-Einstein Condensate is a tough concept to comprehend, but I will do my best to explain. As a solid substance cools to temperatures just a whisker above Absolute Zero; the atoms in this substance start losing their identity. In other words, they stop knowing who they are, what they are and where they are. As a result, they begin to clump up and behave as one big super atom . This super atom starts to behave and interact just like a wave – it is this wave that is a Bose-Einstein Condensate.
The coldest place in the entire Universe
When you think of the Universe, you think of it as huge, empty and cold. The darkest, coldest parts of the empty Space (in Space) have a temperature of 3 Kelvin, which is just 3 degrees above Absolute Zero. The Boomerang Nebula sinks to extreme temperatures of 1 Kelvin. This is the coldest natural occurring temperature in the Universe . What does this mean? Recall that Bose-Einstein Condensates only occur at temperatures below 0.0000001 Kelvin; this means the coldest achieved temperature in the entire Universe is in our laboratories on Earth!
The Importance of a BEC
If this weird state of matter doesn’t occur anywhere else in the entire Universe, why are we spending so much time and money digging deeper and finding out more about it? Why do we care so much? What can it help us achieve? You would be surprised. Besides unlocking more mysteries about how the Universe started or help us finally understand Dark Matter/ Energy, there are quite a few ways it can help us innovate our current technology.
You know what a laser is; they are everywhere. Bar-codes of items are scanned by the cashier using lasers – CD players use lasers – even the Internet is made possible by lasers . Lasers are waves of light, that oscillate in phase with each other. Remember when I said a BEC is a super atom that acts like a wave? What if we had lasers that emitted atoms instead of light? Well, it would revolutionize computing altogether. This includes Quantum computing, Quantum internet and even Quantum teleportation – where you literally can beam atoms with a laser across the room!
Interested in learning more about the BEC? This book will go into great depth for you!
Here is a short video of the famous Dr. Michio Kaku discussing the innovation BECs can bring to the table in the future!
This animation below visually explains what a BEC is very well – check it out!
If you have any questions, leave them below and until next time, take care.
Please note; no copyright infringement is intended. All images used have been labelled for re-use on Google Images. If any artist or designer has any issues with any of the content used in this article, please don’t hesitate to contact me to correct the issue.
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