Bose-Einstein Condensation in Microgravity

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Science  18 Jun 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5985, pp. 1540-1543
DOI: 10.1126/science.1189164

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Going Down the Tube

Two pillars of modern physics are quantum mechanics and general relativity. So far, both have remained apart with no quantum mechanical description of gravity available. Van Zoest et al. (p. 1540; see the Perspective by Nussenzveig and Barata) present work with a macroscopic quantum mechanical system—a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) of rubidium atoms in which the cloud of atoms is cooled into a collective quantum state—in microgravity. By dropping the BEC down a 146-meter-long drop chamber and monitoring the expansion of the quantum gas under these microgravity conditions, the authors provide a proof-of-principle demonstration of a technique that can probe the boundary of quantum mechanics and general relativity and perhaps offer the opportunity to reconcile the two experimentally.