Atoms move a million times slower — it takes them half a minute to move one inch! MIT scientists have cooled a sodium gas to the lowest temperature ever recorded — only half-a-billionth of a degree above absolute zero. At absolute zero (-273 degrees C or -460 degrees F), all atomic motion comes to a standstill since the cooling process has extracted all the particles’ energy. By improving cooling methods, scientists have succeeded in getting closer and closer to absolute zero. At room temperature, atoms move at the speed of a jet airplane. At the new record-low temperature, atoms are a million times slower — it takes them half a minute to move one inch.
“In an ordinary container, particles bounce off the walls. In our container, atoms are repelled by magnetic fields,” explained physics graduate student Aaron Leanhardt.
For reaching the record-low temperatures, the MIT researchers invented a novel way of confining atoms, which they call a “gravito-magnetic trap.” As the name indicates, the magnetic fields act together with gravitational forces to keep the atoms trapped.
A Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC) is a state of matter of a dilute gas of bosons cooled to temperatures very close to absolute zero (that is, very near 0 K or −273.15 °C). Under such conditions, a large fraction of bosons occupy the lowest quantum state, at which point macroscopic quantum phenomena become apparent.
In this video Bose-Einstein Condensate of sodium atoms is created in lab at MIT by Martin Zwierlein. Using highly focused, single frequency lasers it is possible to cool the single sodium atoms, negating their thermal vibrations by inducing electronic transitions which effectively “pushes” them into place. This brings the atoms down to millikelivn temperatures.