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MIT Physicists Create New Form of Matter 316

Ninwa writes "According to the MIT news office the folks in their labs have really outdone themselves this time, they've created a new form of matter. The post states, 'They have become the first to create a new type of matter, a gas of atoms that shows high-temperature superfluidity.' It has been said that this could solve the mysteries in superconductivity."
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MIT Physicists Create New Form of Matter

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  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Thursday June 23, 2005 @06:54PM (#12895326) Homepage Journal
    Lots of weird shit happens when you approach absolute zero.
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:09PM (#12895487) Homepage
      Science is full of neat, world-changing phenomina that we can't get to occur in a practical setting (or, at least, to the degree we'd like).

      * 90% of the universe is hydrogen. H + H fusion produces crazy amounts of energy. But dang it, those electrons out there have all sorts of zany ways to dissipate the energy that you spend trying to surpass the Coulomb barrier.

      * At low temperatures, some gasses behave as superfluids (like in the article). No friction. But darn those temperatures!

      * Superconductors are the same, but even more frustrating in ways. Example: we found superconductors... but they only work at extremely cold temperatures. Then we found "high temperature" (i.e., liquid nitrogen-temperature) superconductors... but they're all brittle ceramics, limiting their uses. Another example: superconductors would have near boundless theoretical conduction potential... but, whoops, when you pass a current through a superconductor, it creates a magnetic field which will destroy its superconducting properties. We partly solve this by adding impurities to pin down the field lines, but we still have sadly limited capacity (even if it's much better than, say, copper).

      * Carbon nanotubes have ridiculous strengths for their density. SWNTs have been measured up to 60 GPa tensile strength (theoretically much higher is capable), and MWNTs over 100. And yet, nanotube composites don't generally even outperform conventional materials because we can only produce tiny tubes held together weakly by vdw and pi bonds.

      I can think of dozens more offhand. Science likes to tantalize you with incredible possibilities that float just outside your reach ;)
      • I'm sorry, you're far too knowledgeable of science - or anything else, for that matter - to be posting on slashdot. Please cease this behavior, and go, like, publish something.

        It would be nice though, if all problems in science were perfect spheres, homogeneous, hard, and always engaged in perfectly elastic collisions? Oh, and frictionless?

        • Re:IP ban (Score:2, Funny)

          by libcoder ( 789987 )
          Hey, I totally know, science can be so hard to study. I just took physics and I still can't find a single store that sells the massless string he told us so much about.
      • by Vengie ( 533896 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @09:51PM (#12896699)
        you shouldn't abbreviate london forces as vdw. or at least type out van der waals. :P [technically ALL dipole interactions are vdw...]
        (people can't google for VDW if they don't know what it means....and i have faith that at least ONE reader out there would have wanted to google it)
        </chem snob>
      • by iammaxus ( 683241 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @09:52PM (#12896711)
        A small correction on your thing about nanotubes: the limiting factor in current nanotube composites is not the weakness of inter-nanotube bonds, but the fact that nanotube composites do not even use these weak bonds well enough. Spinning fibers of dense, aligned nanotubes is very difficult.

        Of course, longer nanotubes would help, as you suggest, but I'm saying that even current nanotube production techniques could theoretically produce some extremely high tensile strength fibers (they can already claim the highest toughness []).
      • yeah much like powered flight was just out of reach a bit over 100 years ago

        and electricity once was

        and combustion engines...and the transister

        a lot of things at one time were just out of reach at the fringes of technology for a long time. give them a dozen or so years, and someone might be able to figure out a way to improve or use these technologies.

        give them a 100 more years, and by then maybe we will have the jumbo jet as compared to the wright brother flier equivalents of these technologies.
      • by mcrbids ( 148650 ) on Friday June 24, 2005 @02:28AM (#12898087) Journal
        Science likes to tantalize you with incredible possibilities that float just outside your reach ;)

        Yes, but it's because of work like this that so many miracles do, in fact, happen.

        * Ever stop to consider that the thermal density in recent P4/Athlon CPUs is actually higher than the thermal density of a nuclear power plant?

        * Speaking of which, how about those nuclear power plants - 1 lb of radioactive material able to provide power for a city for a year or more...

        * Power used to light up lights, like those nifty Compact Florescent bulbs that are so power efficient. Exotic power - a Florescent bulb creates an intense radio signal by blasting electricity at thousands of volts (essentially, a spark several inches long) through a vacuum tube, dusted with dust that floresces (glows) as it converts the radio signal into visible light... Fancy that - they cost me about a buck each, and are 4-5 times as efficient as regular incandescent light bulbs.

        * Let's not even get into an obvious one - the Internet. Where are you? I'm in California - but it doesn't matter, does it? You can read this merely seconds after I post it, wherever you happen to be...

        * I'm about to go jogging in my new running shoes, created from an exotic foam material that springs unnaturally, preventing injuries to my knees and ankles as I jog - they can take a pounding over and over again, yet their cost is only around $40.

        * Its not uncommon for me to run in a Gore-tex suit. Comprising of nylon (itself a miracle material from the early 1900s) fabric covering a Mylar membrane with microscopic holes in it. Mylar is, itself, incredible in its strength-weight ratio, but the microscopic holes allow my sweat to evaporate and keep me dry, even when it's raining or the jacket is wet - the holes allow water vapor through while being far too small for liquid water to go through, effectively blocking it.

        While science might appear to tantalize with things out of reach, we only remember them because they are out of reach. When you really consider it, the miracles within our grasp are nothing short of incredible.
      • Science likes to tantalize you with incredible possibilities that float just outside your reach ;)

        I think that's just whining. The amount of progress made over the last 30 years alone is astounding: enormous chip densities, DLP chips, single atom imagery, high temperature superconductors, the human genome, amorphous metals, etc.

        I fully expect superconductivity, superfluidity, and super-strong materials to become more mainstream over the next decade--that has become more engineering than science at this
    • True dat. Temperature is merely an energy scale which relates finite changes of heat with finite changes of entropy.

      What this means is that you can basically expect to see as many interesting phenomena between 1mK and 1K as you would between 1K and 1000K. These experiments were done down at 50nK, so that's a world of difference from even the cryo stuff I do at 10mK.

  • by MMHere ( 145618 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @06:55PM (#12895344)
    That's just the Vogons posting notice of the interstellar space highway to be built through here next millennium.

    Foolish MIT scientists; they've mis-interpreted the posting. Superconductivity has been proven impossible by the science planet #$(*&^#@$^%.
  • Does it have a name? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cytoman ( 792326 )
    Does this new form of matter have a name to it, yet? By the way, what are the 'old' types of matter? Solid, liquid, gas, plasma??
  • by ka9dgx ( 72702 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @06:58PM (#12895363) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    "It may sound strange to call superfluidity at 50 nanokelvin high-temperature superfluidity, but what matters is the temperature normalized by the density of the particles," Ketterle said. "We have now achieved by far the highest temperature ever."

    I was quite disappointed... I expected something new that I could actually use... oh well.


    • I mean, it's not shorts and t-shirts weather, but it's not too shabby for New England...
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:14PM (#12895549)
      Read further - immediately after that comment:

      "Scaled up to the density of electrons in a metal, the superfluid transition temperature in atomic gases would be higher than room temperature."

      So maybe it could actually be used.
      • That comment is, unfortunately, slightly out of context. They were trying to help people relate to why they were excited about 50 nano-Kelvins, which is still arguably really, really cold. The idea is, if you scaled the temperatures up to something that normal people could relate to, then this breakthrough in superconductivity could be likened to something at above room temperature (where the previous upper limit was room temperature itself.)

        In other words, still no practical application.
  • I'm pretty sure I can put it to much better use than MIT.
  • by DongleFondle ( 655040 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:00PM (#12895392)
    See the picture at top right on the article and check out these nerds. Okay the first 3 or your every day run of the mill science nerds and then you get to the guy on the right, Andre Schirotzek. Isn't this guy a little attractive and built to be a scientist at MIT? No scientist that looks like that and creates a new form of matter can get away without becomming a superhero/villian through some bizarre mixup in an experiment.
    • by Humorously_Inept ( 777630 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:04PM (#12895435) Homepage
      He's the HVAC tech that got them to 50nK. Brrr.

      • HVAC techs aren't the guys that get things to cryogenic temperatures. For that type of extreme you need something other than a plumber and that guy that fixed your air conditioning system.

        On the other hand, obtaining liquid nitrogen might not be so difficult. I wonder if LOX is more stringently controlled these days (ref: []).
        • It was meant as a joke. You'd need an impossible compressor, condenser and refridgerant to get to temperatures nearing absolute zero. I know this. It was a humorous follow up to the parent, which suggested that nerds were typically bereft of good looks.

          As for obtaining liquid nitrogen, it was fifty cents a litre in the basement of the chemistry building when I was in university and they'd let you carry it away in a Thermos so long as you didn't close the lid on it.
      • "Hallo, I am ze repairman... I hear you are havink a problem with deine cooling?"

        Attractive female grad student: "Oh yes, I need you to cool down.... my experiment on gas superfluidity. Oh, please don't mind my friend Sherry, she's just over using the shower."

        (cue porno music)

    • A little attractive? yeah. wow. I'd totally hit it. Oops! wrong site!.... :)
    • OMG !! It's Gordon Freeman !!
    • Err... So?

      I know this is a troll, but ... *gulp* hook, line, sinker...

      It's not like people think, "holy crap, I'm a handsome, well built; oh darn, there goes my interest in science and my IQ got divided by two!".

      Well built and fit-as-hell actor Dolph Lundgren holds a masters degree in chemical engineering. He was also offered a Fulbright scholarship to study at MIT. He turned that down to pursue a career in acting.

      Is it just me or does there appear to be a US specific mantra that a lot of people chant o
    • by cahiha ( 873942 )
      MIT isn't just computer geeks, you know. People in mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering, and related disciplines tend to be much less geeky. And even among computer geeks, there is a significant population that hangs out at the gym in their spare time.
  • by SpyPlane ( 733043 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:01PM (#12895406)
    a grain of salt?
  • Technology used (Score:5, Interesting)

    by badmicrophone ( 858946 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:04PM (#12895438)
    A "Magneto-optical trap". ot.html []

    one of my fav physics tools because it uses lasers and magnets! it's just so science-fictiony!

    Check out my music video! []
  • It may be new, but I'll bet the Supreme Court will let it be siezed under emminent domain. []
  • by Nom du Keyboard ( 633989 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:07PM (#12895467)
    Dan Kleppner, director of the MIT-Harvard Center for Ultracold Atoms

    He should be promoted to Untracold Molecules for this breakthrough.

  • Cooling Techniques (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jazzer_Techie ( 800432 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:14PM (#12895540)
    In order to achieve 50 nanokelvin, you have to use "laser and evaporative cooling techniques". The article failed to explain how that worked, so here it goes. Temperature is essentially a measurement of the average kinetic energy (energy of motion) of a bunch of atoms/molecules. So when you're working with small samples of gas, cooling it down is essentially slowing it down. In laser cooling, a laser with a material-specific frequency is shown towards a sample of gas which is moving toward it. The photons striking the gas are absorbed and then re-emitted. Some of the kinetic energy goes into the re-emitted photons and therefore the gas sample cools. Evaporative cooling is similar to what you'd expect. The gas sample is placed into an inverted "cone". (Note: Not a physical container, but made of lasers and magnetic fields.) The faster moving atoms/molecules move upwards and out while the slower moving ones settle to the bottom. The end result is a supercooled gas at the bottom of your "cone". I am not a physicist, but this is how it was explained to me by one of Ketterle's grad students. I went on a tour of the lab a week before this discovery was made. Surprisingly, it was a sweltering 90 degrees in the room.
    • In order to achieve 50 nanokelvin, you have to use "laser and evaporative cooling techniques". The article failed to explain how that worked, so here it goes...

      Darn, and I was hoping it would be someone standing next to a giant laser on a tripod, holding a bellows to cool a tray of liquid nitrogen icecubes ...
  • by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:16PM (#12895562) Homepage Journal
    How many forms of matter do we have now? What are the criteria to distinguish types of matter?
    • It's hard to tell how many since it becomes harder to tell when one announcement is just a dupe of another.
    • by Eightyford ( 893696 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:23PM (#12895640) Homepage
      Matter can exist in four phases (or states), solid, liquid, gas, and plasma plus a few other extreme phases, like critical fluids and degenerate gases.
    • Solid, liquid, gas, plasma, neutron star, and now this.
    • by nmpeglit ( 782305 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @08:33PM (#12896187) Homepage
      Well, it seems that it depends who you ask. Particle physicists will say that matter can be split into elementary particles. These particles can be divided into two categories, fermions and bosons. Fermions are all the elementary particles that are building blocks of nature e.g electrons are fermions, quarks are fermions etc... They have a half integral spin. Bosons are all the carriers of forces. Photon is the carrier of the electromagnetic force and has integral spin. Hence it is a boson. The idea is that these two different categories of particles have a nice property. Fermions obey the Fermi - Dirac statistics while bosons obey the Bose - Einstein statistics. What this means is that an infinite amount of bosons can coexist in the same quantum state while this does not apply to fermions ( technicallities omitted ). This is known as Pauli's exclusion principle. That is why an infinite amount of bosons can add up and create a macroscopic force and why all matter has not condensed to a drop of infinite density. Neat huh?

      Now, particle physicists will say that all these fermions and bosons and their combinations ( you can have baryons and mesons etc etc - doesn't matter what these are ) are "ordinary matter". Electron - Electron pairs ( Coopper pairs ) that are formed in superconductors ( and make the phenomenon possible ) or whatever weird combination of ferminos and bosons you come up with are called "states of matter" or something like that but not a new form of matter. You have ordinary matter there, part of the so called Standard Model. It is just elecrtrons and atoms and so on but combined in a different way and with different external conditions ( like pressure and temperature ). So they are just different states of matter.

      There are some cosmology related problems these days. One of these is that the ordinary matter that experts can see with their telescopes amounts to a tiny fraction of the matter that they calculate there is out there. Let's say 5% ( I do not really remember the exact number, but it is quite small ). What is the nature of the rest 95%? There are some speculations but what experts say is that "it is a new form of matter". No protons, no electrons, no neutrinos. Nothing that can emit radiation ( that's why the name dark matter ). Fascinating... No need to say more about this, interesting stuff however, you can google it or have a look at wikipedia for dark matter, cosmological constant and each page will bring another and so on.

      The conclusion: Not a new form of matter but a new state of it. And by the way, superfluidity is a phenomenon discovered around the '30s. Certainly there are many interesting things about it and is not a "job done" however keep in mind that laboratories are also very aware of public relations. If this is a breakthrough or an important discovery, experts will decide and time will tell.

    • I don't actually get to decide this kind of thing (who does?), but if I did, I would say...

      It's not really a new form, it's just Bose-Einstein condensate which has been repackaged. We don't have bosonic solids and fermionic solids as separate forms, I don't see why we should have bosonic condensate and fermionic condensate as separate forms.

      That leaves us with:
      solids, liquids, gasses, plasmas, condensates

      With condensates being any form of matter which is quantum mechanically degenerate. That would incl
  • By their definition, with $100 in my bank account, I am a millionaire.
    • If it was some super-dense form of $100 which, which expanded out to a million bucks in normal monetary systems, then, yes you would be a millionaire.

      Kind of like the exchange rate when you go to Indonesia - a hundred USD gets you a million rupiah.
  • Slashdot: (Score:5, Funny)

    by Klowner ( 145731 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @07:44PM (#12895815) Homepage
    News for Nerds. Stuff about matter.
  • by frank_adrian314159 ( 469671 ) on Thursday June 23, 2005 @08:19PM (#12896084) Homepage
    "...what matters is the temperature normalized by the density of the particles"

    Does this mean that a star's core might be superconducting given a low enough temperature and a high enough density? From a relativistic standpoint, what happens as you shove more mass in? The mass/energy is getting greater, but does the normalized value of the temperature start decreasing? I think that this finding is going to be interesting for more reasons than just superconductivity. Of course, not being a physicist, I might be (heck, am probably) wrong.

  • Solid, liquid, gas, plasma, bose-einstein condensate... I think there was one more in the hot range.
  • "They have become the first to create a new type of matter, a gas of atoms that shows high-temperature superfluidity."

    Sounds like they've been lighting farts again.
  • Preprint (Score:4, Informative)

    by doru ( 541245 ) on Friday June 24, 2005 @02:59AM (#12898165) Homepage
    For more details, the preprint of the Nature paper can be found here [].
  • Super (Score:3, Funny)

    by AuntMatilda ( 881020 ) on Friday June 24, 2005 @03:34AM (#12898260)
    Superconducting supercritial superfluids? Bah! I want "hyper", I want "diemsional" and I want it made into a film with Sandra Bullock. Make it happen!
  • this is when you get a bunch of them in a small place and they start arguing about 'Rules of acqusition'...oh wait, I thought you said Ferangi.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"