Indian-Origin Scientist Creates Fifth State Of Matter From Home In COVID-19 Lockdown

With COVID-19 taking over our world, we’re all working from home, trying our best to maintain sanity in the insane times we live in. Some are also trying to learn something new during this lockdown to better their skillsets. 

However, an Indian-origin physicist in the UK took this to a whole new level by creating a fifth state of matter right from her living room.

Reported first by Lab News, Dr Amruta Gadge from the University of Sussex has created a Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC), which is essentially a state of matter where very cold atoms fuse together and act as a single entity. 

She was able to do it from her living room -- two miles away from her laboratory in the University of Sussex. She made use of her computer to remotely control lasers and radio waves in order to develop the fifth state of matter -- after solid, liquid, gas and plasma.

Importance of fifth state of matter

Researchers feel that this unprecedented feat could help researchers to operate quantum tech remotely in environments that are otherwise deemed to be inaccessible, like space or deep sea.

Peter Krüger, professor of experimental physics at the University of Sussex, said in a statement, “We are all extremely excited that we can continue to conduct our experiments remotely during lockdown, and any possible future lockdowns. Enhancing the capabilities of remote lab control is relevant for research applications aimed at operating quantum technology in inaccessible environments such as space, underground, in a submarine, or in extreme climates.”

University of Sussex

In case you didn’t know, a Bose-Einstein Condensate includes hundreds of thousands of rubidium atoms, mostly of gases which are cooled down to temperatures a billion times colder than freezing. At such temperatures, atoms stop moving (also referred to as absolute zero).

However, just above the state of absolute zero, atoms transform and fuse into a single quantum object that is also able to sense very low magnetic fields. The university’s Quantum Systems and Devices research group conducts experiments where they intend to use a BEC as a magnetic sensor.

Professor Krüger explains, “We use multiple carefully timed steps of laser and radio wave cooling to prepare rubidium gases at these ultra-low temperatures. This requires accurate computer control of laser light, magnets and electric currents in microchips based on vigilant monitoring of environmental conditions in the lab while nobody is able to be there to check in person.”

Before commencement of lockdown and remote working, Dr Gadge and researchers set up a 2D magnetic optical trap -- an apparatus that uses lasers and magnets to create trapped atoms. She was able to run complex calculations from her home by accessing computers in the lab remotely. 

She explained, “The research team has been observing lockdown and working from home and so we have not been able to access our labs for weeks. The process has been a lot slower than if I had been in the lab as the experiment is unstable and I’ve had to give 10 to 15 minutes of cooling time between each run.”

She concluded, “This is obviously not as efficient and way more laborious to do manually because I’ve not been able to do systematic scans or fix the instability like I could working in the lab. But we were determined to keep our research going so we have been exploring new ways of running our experiments remotely.”

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