May 10, 2002
Baby, it's cold inside

Today's literally cool science news:

The coldest place in Houston isn't the Galleria ice rink, it's physicist Randall Hulet's lab.

The temperature inside a small tube there isn't absolute zero -- at minus 459 Fahrenheit, the lowest possible temperature -- but at one-billionth of a degree above it, it's as cold as any place in the universe.

The physics and astronomy professor and his Rice University colleagues have cooled atoms to sub-freezing temperatures to study a phenomenon theorists first thought possible decades ago: that matter, like light, could take the form of both a particle and a wave.

In his latest experiment, the results of which were published Thursday in the journal Nature, Hulet created a tiny bundle of matter that, in wave form, can be transported a short distance.

It's not a Star Trek transporter -- the collection of 10,000 atoms he transported is a far cry from the trillions in a human body -- but the matter sent a fraction of an inch in the lab traveled back and forth in tube as a coherent wave.

"This has never happened in the universe," Hulet said. "It's something that can only be found in a laboratory."

I love news stories that have to use Star Trek for context.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 10, 2002 to Technology, science, and math