MIT physicists have set a new record for chilling molecules to an absolute zero and keeping them in a stable state.
An absolute zero is temperature just a little colder than what the scientists believe was the Big Bang afterglow and a temperature more than one million times below that of interstellar space.
The MIT team of physicists, with lead author Martin Zwierlein played with molecules in a ground-breaking, as well as record-breaking fashion to understand the molecular physics at extremely low temperatures.
Previously, a similar experiment was conducted by a consortium of scientists from the U.K., Austria and France.
When molecules are observed at normal temperatures, they move around at incredible speeds, sometimes colliding. However, at extremely low temperatures, as is the case with this experiment, it was expected but never proven before that the molecules would showcase no more friction, instead coming together as one body.
What the physicists did was to cool down sodium potassium gas. They used lasers to cool the gas and dissipate the energy from the molecules. The sodium potassium molecules were then exposed to 500 nanokelvin temperature.
On the Fahrenheit scale, that is the equivalent of minus 459.67 degrees, while on the Celsius scale it is the equivalent of minus 273.15 degrees. For Kelvin scale, that is the equivalent of one degree split by 500 billion times.
Surprisingly, the initial hypothesis held up. Both the sodium and potassium molecules proved to be stable and did not react with the molecules surrounding them in the normal fashion they would under normal temperatures.
At the same time, their dipolarity was increased, causing them to attract or push away other molecules, thus creating the stable state observed.
The sodium and potassium molecules were cooled down separately and brought together by the use of a magnetic field. The processes were conducted using a magneto-optical trap.
The weak bond at first was strengthened via a low energy and a high energy beam. The heat from the molecules was absorbed in the process and the molecules almost stopped rotating and vibrating.
The stable bond was maintained for 2.5 seconds, a real record for nearly frozen molecules and a reason for celebration for the MIT team.
The results of their findings are published in the Physical Review Letters journal and alongside the observational nature of the experiment on forms of matter, they also entail new horizons for quantum processes like quantum computing.
Image Source: sciencedaily.com