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It’s been more than two decades since Carl Wieman and Eric Cornell created the first Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC), confirming the counterintuitive prediction that a macroscopic population of atoms can pile into a single quantum ground state if cooled below some critical temperature. In all those years, the recipe for creating the condensates has hardly changed: Laser Doppler cooling chills the cloud of atoms as close to the critical temperature as possible; when that technique can go no further, evaporative cooling does the rest. But the evaporative cooling step is inefficient. It works by jettisoning most of a cloud’s atoms in order to cool the remaining few—a relatively slow process that can take a minute or more. Now MIT researchers led by Vladan Vuletić have come up with an alternative approach that allows them to create BECs in a fraction of the time.

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Category: Science