Quantum bubbles in space: ultracold atomic physics aboard the International Space Station
Associate Professor, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Bates College
In 2018 NASA sent an instrument to the International Space Station to study the physics of matter cooled well below a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. Built by NASA scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, installed by astronauts in orbit, and used by physicists around the world, the Cold Atom Laboratory (NASA CAL) is focused on studying what happens when you remove gravity as a perturbing influence on refrigeration experiments like those conducted in hundreds of terrestrial labs. In particular, an exotic state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), first observed on Earth in 1995, has now been observed in space, with several key open questions now open to investigation regarding the behavior of BECs in microgravity.
One particular avenue of investigation focuses on whether BECs can be formed in the shape of a bubble: a radically different topology for trapping that can strongly affect the thermodynamics of the BEC, the collective motion of the BEC, and the dynamics of quantum vortices. This presentation will review the NASA CAL instrument, student research with CAL at Bates College, and progress toward observations of ultracold bubbles.