An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: MIT physicists have created a new form of matter, a supersolid, which combines the properties of solids with those of superfluids. By using lasers to manipulate a superfluid gas known as a Bose-Einstein condensate, the team was able to coax the condensate into a quantum phase of matter that has a rigid structure -- like a solid -- and can flow without viscosity -- a key characteristic of a superfluid. Studies into this apparently contradictory phase of matter could yield deeper insights into superfluids and superconductors, which are important for improvements in technologies such as superconducting magnets and sensors, as well as efficient energy transport. The researchers report their results this week in the journal Nature. The team used a combination of laser cooling and evaporative cooling methods, originally co-developed by Ketterle, to cool atoms of sodium to nanokelvin temperatures. Atoms of sodium are known as bosons, for their even number of nucleons and electrons. When cooled to near absolute zero, bosons form a superfluid state of dilute gas, called a Bose-Einstein condensate, or BEC. To create the supersolid state, the team manipulated the motion of the atoms of the BEC using laser beams, introducing "spin-orbit coupling." In their ultrahigh-vacuum chamber, the team used an initial set of lasers to convert half of the condensate's atoms to a different quantum state, or spin, essentially creating a mixture of two Bose-Einstein condensates. Additional laser beams then transferred atoms between the two condensates, called a "spin flip."
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