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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Bose-Einstein Condensate created for the first time in India

Researchers at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Mumbai, led by physicist C.S. Unnikrishnan, Sanjukta Roy and Saptarishi Chaudhuri have produced for the first time in India an exotic state of matter, first predicted 82 years ago by Albert Einstein and Satyendra Nath Bose.

The TIFR scientists used magnetic fields and lasers to cool atoms to an extremely low temperature — a whisker above minus 273.15 C, or absolute zero — and created a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC), sometimes called the fifth state of matter.

Physicists Eric Cornell, Carl Wieman, and Wolfgang Ketterle in the US beat the world to a BEC in 1995 — for which they got the Nobel Prize in 2001. Since then, dozens of laboratories across the world have produced BECs. None in India. But the TIFR researcher were the first to create BEC in India.

Unnikrishnan and his students cooled atoms of a gas called rubidium to such a low temperature that a cluster of some 100,000 atoms behaves as a single “superatom”. And each atom dances in synchrony with every other atom -- the hallmark of BEC.

The BEC concept was proposed by Einstein in 1925, drawing heavily on ideas that Bose had sent him in a research paper. A BEC has only a fleeting existence — barely a few seconds. The ultra-cold atoms need to be confined in special “traps” created by either magnetic fields or lasers and maintained in ultra-high vacuum. Any contact with air will destroy a BEC. The four common states of matter are solid, liquid, gas and plasma — the hot material found in the sun. Some scientists have called BEC a fifth state of matter — a state in which atoms are at their lowest energy state possible. While most BECs in the world are confined within magnetic fields, the TIFR team used lasers to create and trap the BEC in a high vacuum stainless steel-glass chamber. The first optically-trapped BEC was produced by scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US in 2001. But only five or six other laboratories have used this strategy since then. Source: The Telegraph

Our heartiest congratulations to the TIFR team for achieving this remarkable feat.

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