International Space Station creates ‘fifth state of matter’ quantum world to explore new path

Twenty-five years ago, man first created the fifth state of matter, the Bose-Einstein condensation (Bose-Einstein condensation, BEC). As a result, this quantum state has become an important tool for the study of quantum physics. Twenty-five years later, scientists recreated the BEC on the International Space Station and conducted experimental studies on the International Space Station, the first results of which have been published in Nature.

Entitled “Observation of Bose-Einstein condensates in an Earth-orbiting research lab”.

International Space Station creates 'fifth state of matter' quantum world to explore new path

The fifth state of matter

In daily life, matter usually has four forms – gas, liquid, solid, and plasma – while the Bose-Einstein condensation state is the fifth state of matter that distinguishes it from the first four forms.

This is a strange state of matter, a gaseous, hyperfluid state of matter that the boson atom presents when it cools to near absolute zero.

That is, when the temperature is low enough and the atoms move slowly enough, almost all atoms gather in the lowest quantum state, forming a macro quantum state.

International Space Station creates 'fifth state of matter' quantum world to explore new path

In 1995, MIT’s Wolfgang Keatley and Eric Cornell and Carl Wyman of the University of Colorado Boulder obtained the first Bose-Einstein condensation at 170 nK low temperatures using gaseous gamma atoms.

Compared to other everyday physical forms, THE BEC is very unstable, and whenever it is out of the laboratory and in contact with the outside world, interactions occur that cause them to heat up beyond critical temperatures and break down into a single atomic state.

Based on this, it will take time for BECs to be applied in real life.

However, the scientists’ exploration of beC never stopped.

BEC research, from ground to space

After bec was first discovered, nearly a hundred laboratories around the world studied it.

In May 2016, the team from Australia also used artificial intelligence for the first time to create bose-Einstein condensation. In this experiment, AI mainly acts as a laser beam that regulates temperature and prevents atoms from escaping.

Despite the fact that several studies are under way, there is always an unavoidable obstacle to Earth’s gravity.

As mentioned earlier, this is a special form of matter, but the “superatom” that forms it is very fragile, and the Earth’s gravity interferes with the magnetic field required to fix the BEC’s observation position, making it easy to disappear, making it difficult to understand it in the Earth laboratory.

To keep atoms from moving with energy under gravity, scientists have set their sights on space.

In 2017, German physicists launched the MAIUS 1 experiment in space, using a special device that cools alkali metal atoms into Bose-Einstein condensate and is launched into space, using it to study it in a weightless state before returning to Earth.

However, the process is only a few minutes long, and the help for research is still limited. So the scientists sent the lab directly to the International Space Station.

In 2018, David Aveline, a physicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, created the Cold Atomics Laboratory and placed it on the International Space Station as a way to begin a study of BEC, which was published June 11 in Nature.

International Space Station creates BEC

International Space Station creates 'fifth state of matter' quantum world to explore new path

In a cold atomic lab, a red laser holds a boson atom with the same number of protons and electrons in a position that cools it to near absolute zero.

As atoms cool down, they condense into denser, denser clouds, and the experimental equipment uses coils to generate magnetic fields that can be used to capture atoms and plunge them into “magnetic traps” for easy observation.

It is worth noting that although atoms do not move easily at extremely low temperatures, once the rejection between atoms creates, it causes the atomic cloud to explode and beC is diluted in seconds and cannot continue the experiment.

Therefore, in order to advance the study smoothly, it is necessary to weaken the rate of expansion of the atomic cloud.

On Earth, researchers have found that reducing the rate of expansion of atomic clouds requires deepening magnetic traps to counter the effects of gravity. Not in the International Space Station, where even shallow magnetic traps can produce BECs due to weak gravity.

International Space Station creates 'fifth state of matter' quantum world to explore new path

In addition, the study suggests that researchers’ research on BEC can last longer based on the International Space Station’s microgravity environment. In space, for example, researchers have 1.1 seconds to observe atoms released in magnetic traps, compared with 40 milliseconds on Earth.

Open BEC to explore new opportunities

There is no doubt that this study has positive implications for understanding the state of THE SUBSTANCE of BEC.

The successful creation of BEC in orbit, the researchers note, not only opens up new opportunities for quantum gas research and atomic interferometry, but also paves the way for larger tasks.

In the abstract of the paper, the researchers also point out the direction of the task, including the microgravity-specific trap topology, atomic laser source, small body physics and atomic wave interferometry technology long-term research.

For this study, Lisa Werner of the Institute of Quantum Technology at the German Aerospace Center commented:

Being able to study BEC in orbit will help scientists learn more about basic physics and make new, more sensitive quantum measurements more possible. The importance of this experiment to the scientific community cannot be overemphasized.

In addition to the technical surprises of research, physicists have previously pointed out that a better understanding of BEC may also shed light on some of the most mysterious phenomena, including dark energy.