Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bose-Einstein Condensate: Mathematics Made Real?

Born out of a scientific correspondence and collaboration between Albert Einstein and Indian physicist Satyendrenath Bose; Does the Bose-Einstein condensate hold promise for mankind or a mere “curiosity”?

By: Vanessa Uy

Even though we only had succeeded in confirming the existence of a new state of matter called the Bose-Einstein condensate during the second half of the 1990’s, the mathematics explaining – or modeling - the “behavior” of this strange and wonderful substance can be traced back to 1924; Which, unfortunately, is only half of the story.

In 1924, the Indian physicist Satyendrenath Bose collaborated with Albert Einstein on the Bose-Einstein theory of quantum statistics. Even though they were half a world apart – even further back then given that the jumbo jet / low-cost airlines and the Internet were yet to be invented – and never met until their work was completed. Bose was only 30 back then when, on impulse, shared some of the work he had done on quantum statistics to Einstein. The correspondence that followed resulted in the publication of their joint theory brought Bose international fame among physicists.

More than just a curio to be toyed with by theoretical / quantum physicists, Bose-Einstein condensates have very unusual physical properties which make them a potential energy source of unimaginable inexhaustibility given that they have normally zero entropy. Plus, they could serve as a foundation for quantum computing and / or quantum encryption; which could create a new data security protocol that is of several orders of magnitude better than our current ones based on Bernhard Riemann’s work on very large prime numbers.

Even more “curiouser” is the Bose-Einstein condensate cloud’s ability to slow down light from its average “airspeed” of 1 billion kilometers per hour to about the same speed of a five-year-old girl riding a bicycle with training wheels – i.e. just a few meters per second. In recent experiments, light can be slowed down even further. Given that a photon (light particles) must travel at the speed of light no matter what their energy level is to maintain a photon’s “computational” zero rest mass or there will be unfortunate “relativistic” side effects… Like time travel?!

Satyendrenath Bose and Albert Einstein had bequeathed to the scientific community a very useful mathematical tool that despite being formulated over 80 years ago had only been extensively used “practically” via the laboratory studies of the Bose-Einstein condensate phenomena. Given that ballotechnic substances like the very hot quark-gluon plasma of the early universe that existed in a superfluid state is governed – more or less – by the mathematics behind the Bose-Einstein theory of quantum statistics, is humanity’s “Holy Grail” of unlimited energy already at hand?


Mark said...

Some books spelled the Indian physicist's first name as as Satyendranath, while older ones - especially those dating from the late 1950's - a few years after Albert Einstein passed away spelled Bose's first name as Satyendrenath - i.e. the difference in "dre" vs. "dra". Anyway since the Indian-born physicists name is originally written in Sanskrit or the "Hindi alphabet", the latest spelling version "Satyendranath Bose" is probably the correct one given the Western World's improved familiarity with Indian languages as the years go by. I think.
P.S. given their ability to slow down the speed of light by a factor of 100 million, what do you think is the refractive index rating of Bose-Einstein Condensates?

Germaine said...

Variations of the great Indian physicists name now includes Satyendra Nath Bose. Though as late as 1977, some quantum physics abstracts and articles still spelled his first name as Satyendrenath.
In 1924, Satyendra Nath Bose (probably the current accepted spelling of his name since Wikipedia uses this version) wrote a paper about deriving Planck's quantum radiation law without any reference to Classical / Newtonian physics. After initial setbacks in his efforts to publish, he sent an article directly to albert Einstein in Germany. Einstein, recognizing the importance of the paper, translated it to German himself and submitted it on Bose's behalf to the prestigious Zeitschrift für Physik. As a result of Satyendra Nath Bose's recognition, he was able to leave India for the first time and spent two years in Europe, during which the Indian physicist worked with Louis de Broglie (of the "De Broglie Wavelength" fame), Marie Curie and Albert Einstein.