A fascinating study from MIT shows how scientists were able to shatter previous records and create some of the coldest matter in the known universe.
Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have just completed a groundbreaking experiment. Physicists were able to create what they believe could be the coldest chemically stable molecules in the world. According to a new report from the Huffington Post, they were able to chill sodium potassium gas to half of a millionth of a degree above “absolute zero,” which is nearly minus 460 degrees Fahrenheit.
The experiment shocked the scientific community because so far, researchers have only been able to chill unstable compounds to such low temperatures. Supercold molecules have fascinated scientists for quite some time, who hope to observe exotic forms of matter and strange quantum processes.
They’re specifically looking for what are called “superfluid crystals.” According to Dr. Martin Zwierlein, one of the study’s lead physicists, these crystals seem to be totally unfazed by the forces of friction. Though the team has not physically observed this phenomenon, the scientists expect to see it as a result of their calculations.
Supercold molecules might also have uses in quantum computing – the molecules could take on the role of bits, where information for both a ‘0’ and a ‘1’ are coded into the rotation and movement of the molecules themselves. According to Dr. Zwierlein, “Quantum computation itself would be extremely important for cryptography and to solve certain types of problems that simply take impossibly long on a ‘classical’ computer.”
The team employed a set of lasers to chill potassium and sodium atoms separately, and then applied a magnetic field to form a weak bond between the elements. With just the right amount of magnetism, the atoms were found to resonate and vibrate right next to each other.
Next, the team used a different set of high-energy lasers to remove even more energy from the system, bringing the molecules to their lowest vibrational and rotational capacities.
The team will soon return to the laboratory, where they will continue chilling molecules and learning about how they interact with each other.