An amazing study shows how these physicists were able to create the coldest stable molecules in the world, smashing records and paving the way to some truly incredible technologies.
In an amazing experiment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, physicists have created what they believe could be the coldest chemically stable molecules in the world. According to the Huffington Post, they were able to chill sodium potassium gas to half of a millionth of a degree above “absolute zero,” which is about negative 460 degrees Fahrenheit.
The experiment was groundbreaking because so far, scientists have only been able to get unstable molecules to drop to such a low temperature. Scientists have been interested in supercold molecules in the hopes of observing exotic forms of matter and strange quantum processes.
What they’re looking for in particular is something called “superfluid crystals.” According to Dr. Martin Zwierlein, one of the physicists leading the study, these crystals seem to be totally unaffected by the force of friction. Though this phenomenon has not yet been observed, the scientists are expecting to see it as a result of their calculations.
Super-chilled molecules could also have applications in quantum computing – the molecules could take the role of bits, where information for both a ‘0’ and a ‘1’ are coded into the rotation of the molecules. 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 used a set of lasers to chill potassium and sodium atoms separately, and then applied a magnetic field to produce a weak bond between the elements. With the right amount of magnetism, the atoms resonate and vibrate alongside each other.
They then used another set of high-energy lasers that removed heat from the system, bringing the molecules to their lowest vibrational and rotational capacities.
The temperature achieved in the experiment beat the previous coldest stable molecule by more than a factor of ten. team will return to the lab where they hope to continue cooling molecules and learning about their interactions and life spans.