While we’re waiting for the day when the T.V. goes away for good, we can still squeak in a few select evenings of delivered-straight-to-our-living-room entertainment. Last night, among other programs that may or may indeed have been American Idol, Sara and I watched us some Nova on PBS. We watched Absolute Zero, a show documenting the race to create a Bose-Einstein condensate – a fifth state of matter that only occurs only at fractions of a degree away from absolute zero.
I’ll spare you your obvious suspense… they did it, back in 1995. The things they discovered along the way and the applications for what they made, had me on the floor. Stupefied.
One experiment showed a glass beaker full of super cooled helium boiling wildly as it’s temperature was dropped lower and lower. Then, when it reached a specific point all the boiling just stopped and the fluid began to weep through the bottom of the glass beaker like it was a coffee filter. Through the glass beaker!. Another demonstration showed the same liquid climbing the vertical sides of a bowl and escaping over the edge, because it apparently has no viscosity. None. Just can’t be bothered with it. Unbelievable.
Now that we know how to make this stuff, it’s become the subject of new experiments to see what we can do with it. One researcher used it to slow down light (as in, the speed of ) to the speed of a bicycle. You thought Lance Armstrong was impressive before? Now he’s faster than the speed of light passing through a Bose-Einstein condensate. Take that, France.