The Bose-Einstein Condensate: Everything To Know About The Fifth State Of Matter

The fifth type of matter has been created in a device onboard the International Space Station (ISS) – one of the coldest places in the universe.

In 2018, the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) was set up in the ISS to investigate a strange kind of matter called the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). The CAL is a suitcase-sized device that chills potassium and rubidium atoms in a vacuum chamber and uses laser light to slow down their movement. Read on to find more about the exotic fifth state of matter.

What is the Bose-Einstein Condensate?

This chilly substance was first theorized by the Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein in the early 1920s, as the fifth state of matter, following liquids, gases, solids, and plasma. The BEC is a supercooled gas that does not behave like individual particles and atoms but rather as an entity in a single quantum state.

How id BEC created?

BEC is created when particles called bosons are cooled to near absolute zero (-460 degrees Fahrenheit). At such low temperatures, the boson particles do not get sufficient energy to move into positions that might cause their distinct quantum characteristics to interfere with one another. Without energy differences to set particles apart, the entire group shares the same quantum identity, becoming a single ‘super-particle’ cloud.

BECs sustain better in the microgravity environment

Since 1995, scientists have created BECs in a variety of experiments on Earth, but these experiments are hindered by gravity, leading to the collapse of the clouds in a split second. The ISS’ microgravity environment keeps the BECs stable for multiple seconds, enabling scientists to study in more detail.

Future experiments

Researchers hope to use this experiment to watch atoms collide on a quantum level in the near future. By monitoring disturbances in the movement of the atoms, scientists also want to probe ripples in space-time called gravitational waves. Looking further ahead, the experiment can also yield ideas like the equivalence principle of Einstein, which states that all masses in a given gravitational field accelerate in the same way. Scientific tests of BECs in microgravity could reveal if there are any violations of the principle.

Creation of spherical Bose-Einstein Condensates

So far, the researchers have created BECs using rubidium atoms. They further aim to add potassium atoms to examine what happens when two condensates mix. Additionally, researchers have plans to use the Cold Atom Lab to create spherical BECs, that can be created only in space.

In the future, precision measurements using cold atoms will play an increasingly important role in finding out more about the fifth state of matter.


Satavisha hails from the city of joy, Kolkata. She took up writing as my profession amid the pandemic when the world was at a standstill. Here, she acquired a balance between her passion for writing and sharing various ideas and facts through her stories.
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