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The Subtle Flirtation of Ultracold Atoms

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Science  10 Apr 1998:
Vol. 280, Issue 5361, pp. 200-201
DOI: 10.1126/science.280.5361.200

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Clouds of atoms cooled to almost absolute zero can form a collective state--in effect, a giant atom--called a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). The stability of a BEC depends almost entirely on how the atoms making it up interact one-on-one, and collisions of ultracold atoms provide a glimpse of these interactions. In a first-ever detection, a group of researchers in Paris has gotten cesium atoms to form ordinary molecules chilled to 300 millionths of a kelvin--something only seen before with atoms--which could be the first step toward studying complex materials in the world of the ultracold.