B E C: The New Phase of MatterA new phase of matter has been discovered seventy years after AlbertEinstein predicted it’s existence. In this new state of matter, atoms do notmove around like they would in an ordinary gas condensate. The atoms move inlock step with one another and have identical quantum properties.

This willmake it easier for physicists to research the mysterious properties of quantummechanics. It was named “Molecule of the Year” because it was such a majordiscovery, but it is not a molecule at all. The phase, called the Bose-Einsteincondensate (BEC) follows the laws of quantum physics.In early 1995, scientists at the National Institute of Standards andTechnology and the University of Colorado were the first to uncover the BEC.They magnetically trapped rubidium atoms and then supercooled the atoms toalmost absolute zero. The graphic on the cover shows the Bose-Einstiencondensation, where the atom’s velocities peak at close to zero velocity, andthe atoms slowly emerge from the condensate. The atoms were slowed to the lowvelocity by using laser beams.

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The hardware needed to create the BEC is abargain at $50,000 to $1000,000 which makes it accessible to physics labs aroundthe world.The next step is to test the new phase of matter. We do not know yet ifit absorbs, reflects,or refracts light. BEC is related to superconductivity andmay unlock some mysteries of why some minerals are able to conduct electricitywithout resistance.

The asymmetrical pattern of BEC is is thought by someastrophysicists to explain the bumpy distribution of matter in the earlyuniverse, a distribution that eventually led to the formation of galaxies.Physicists are working on creating an atom laser, using new technology derivedfrom the BEC. The new lasers would be able to create etchings finer than thosethat etch silicon chips today.The discovery of BEC has prompted a lot of research of the new phase.BEC is expected to yield benefits to industry and society. I expect that largebusinesses will take advantage of the new technology and start making productsusing the technology.

This will probably be in the form of the atom lasers BECis expected to make possible. The lasers might be used for laser surgery, orany application where lasers are used today.

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