[gundam] Megaparticles Redux

-Z- (Z@gundam.com)
Thu, 18 Feb 1999 21:14:32 -0800

Awhile back, I posted an item about "Bose-Einstein condensates" that were
described as super-atoms and bore a striking resemblance to the
mega-particles created by Minovsky physics.

These particles just made the news again with the announcement that they
could slow the speed of light passing through them by a factor of
20-million -- that's right, light travelling through Bose-Einstein
condensates did so at a mere 15 km per second!

But the news was accompanied by a clearer description of what Bose-Einstein
condensate are and how they're created. It seems they're a product of
quantum weirdness, a result of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which
states that it is impossible to simultaneously determine the position and
momentum of an atom and explains why Newtonian mechanics is inapplicable at
the atomic level.

Bose-Einstein condensates are formed by lowering the temperature of
hydrogen to near-absolute zero. Enter Heisenberg. As the temperature
approached absolute zero, atomic motion (read: momentum) also approaches
zero, which is about as determinate as you can get. As a result, it's
position becomes increasingly vague, until atoms begin to overlap and
merge, effectively becoming a single super-massive particle.

The more "massive" the condensate, the slower light passes through.

No practical application has been developed yet. This is still a
laboratory curiosity for the time being. But predictions are already being
made about how this could enable optical computers with single-photon switches.

Stay tuned, folks. The prospects for the 21st Century just got another boost!


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