Science

Theoretical "supersolid" state of matter created in two separate studies

Theoretical "supersolid" state...
Two separate studies, from ETH Zurich and MIT, have created a previously-theorized state of matter called a supersolid, where atoms are arranged in a crystalline structure but are still able to flow freely
Two separate studies, from ETH Zurich and MIT, have created a previously-theorized state of matter called a supersolid, where atoms are arranged in a crystalline structure but are still able to flow freely
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The equipment used by the MIT team to create the supersolid
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The equipment used by the MIT team to create the supersolid
The research team at MIT, who created one of the first experimental examples of a supersolid
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The research team at MIT, who created one of the first experimental examples of a supersolid
The ETH Zurich team used an optical resonance chamber to alter the atomic structure of a Bose-Einstein condensate into that of a supersolid
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The ETH Zurich team used an optical resonance chamber to alter the atomic structure of a Bose-Einstein condensate into that of a supersolid
Two separate studies, from ETH Zurich and MIT, have created a previously-theorized state of matter called a supersolid, where atoms are arranged in a crystalline structure but are still able to flow freely
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Two separate studies, from ETH Zurich and MIT, have created a previously-theorized state of matter called a supersolid, where atoms are arranged in a crystalline structure but are still able to flow freely

Most people are familiar with the fundamental, common states of matter – solid, liquid, gas and plasma – but other states exist under extreme circumstances, and yet more have been theorized. Now one such state, first proposed almost 50 years ago, has been created in experiments for the first time. Say hello to the supersolid, a state where atoms simultaneously exhibit a crystalline structure but still flow like a frictionless fluid.

The concept of a supersolid arose from the Nobel Prize-winning discovery in the 1970s of a superfluid, a liquid that has zero viscosity, meaning it flows with no resistance or "thickness." At the time, British physicist David Thouless theorized that a state of matter could exist where atoms are both free flowing like a superfluid, but also arranged in a crystalline structure, making it a supersolid.

Earlier attempts to produce this state used helium, the element that first exhibited superfluidity, but it was never brought to fruition. Now, two simultaneous – but independent – studies, one from ETH Zurich and one from MIT, have produced supersolids from Bose-Einstein condensates, using two different techniques.

The ETH Zurich team first contained rubidium gas in a vacuum chamber, before cooling it down to just a few billionths of a Kelvin above absolute zero. This created a state of matter called a Bose-Einstein condensate, which behaves like a superfluid. Then, the condensate was placed in a specially-designed device with two chambers that each contained two mirrors, facing each other.

The ETH Zurich team used an optical resonance chamber to alter the atomic structure of a Bose-Einstein condensate into that of a supersolid
The ETH Zurich team used an optical resonance chamber to alter the atomic structure of a Bose-Einstein condensate into that of a supersolid

By exposing the condensate to laser light resonating through both chambers, the atoms arranged themselves into a crystalline structure, but were still able to flow of their own accord. They could only move in one direction, but that still isn't normally possible in a conventional solid.

The MIT study also used a Bose-Einstein condensate and laser light, but in this case, the team used the light to spin half of the condensate's atoms into a different orbit, which basically forms two different condensates, a phenomenon called "spin orbit coupling." Then, using other lasers, the researchers were able to create a "spin flip" by transferring atoms between the two condensates. The resulting spin-orbit coupled Bose-Einstein condensate forms, according to the MIT team, a supersolid.

"The simultaneous realization by two groups shows how big the interest is in this new form of matter," says Wolfgang Ketterle, team leader of the MIT study.

Both the ETH Zurich and MIT studies were published in the journal Nature.

Sources: ETH Zurich, MIT

9 comments
LarryWolf
Not too useful. Gets my vote for most boring article ever to appear on newatlas.
ChairmanLMAO
Yeah, monatomic elements is pretty boring too :) Maybe if we could eat it?
Grunchy
Spectacular! But what's with the purple spheres, is that an actual image, or is it an artist's representation? In which case what's all the goo all over the atoms. And are those spheres 248 picometres in diameter, or what the heck.
ljaques
The picture is a crossection of a subatomic particle of a petrified pink Hostess Snowball from 1933. It _finally_ hardened. See? https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/e9/2d/6b/e92d6be8203d683271920e663f28eec2.jpg
Douglas Bennett Rogers
Maybe it could be used to build a frictionless machine.
S Michael
To most people this might seem boring and inconsequential. Look at it from a different angle. This looks like an experiment in anti-gravity and a search for material properties that might show some promise to be able to levitate at room temperature. Eliminate those material that can't and look for those that can. You only have to find one that can levitate at room temperature (or close to it) for a revolutionary discovery.
Donkey of Rodent
The article implies superfluids were discovered in the 1970s. Superfluids were first realized and studied in the 1930s.
psiclone
I always wanted to levitate at room temperature. It only seems to happen when I'm hot.
psiclone
Perhaps we could fill politicians' heads with the stuff. You know...less friction, more getting things done?