In the search for answers, humankind has been experimenting with the surroundings and the environment for as long as we has started thinking intuitively. And for a particular quest for answer, humans are now building a laboratory in space.
Absolute zero is the term given to the lowest temperature ever possible. That is -273.15 Cº or for easy reference, zero Kelvin.
But absolute zero, though theoretical, is never achievable. Because, as matter comes close to zero kelvin, it loses heat hence losing energy. And with lower energy, atoms tend to stick to the lowest energy state possible and tend to become orderly.
This orderly state of atoms is called the Bose-Einstein Condensate. These were predicted by the work of Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein in the early 20th century, but this state of matter was not proven to exist until 1995, a discovery that was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2001.
So, in the Bose-Einstein condensate, when atoms lie in the least quantum state, they start behaving entirely differently. Particles start acting like waves and exhibit quantum properties that cannot be associated with conventional physics.
Studying this phenomenon can lead to interesting discoveries. But it’s difficult to achieve and even if we have come close to zero kelvin, maintaining it, is a whole other thing.
Currently, NASA’s Cold Atom Lab is trying to achieve just that. But in space.
Experiments for achieving the absolute zero on earth have been hindered due to the natural gravity of our planet, which can make the atoms go haywire. Tackling this, NASA has launched a Cold Atom Lab (CAL) on Monday, May 21, aboard a Cygnus spacecraft.
This lab plans to cool a gas down to the lowest temperatures in the known universe and hopes to maintain those low temperatures for 10 seconds.
On the quest to make the coldest spot in the universe, Anita Sengupta, an Indian-American from West Bengal, is one of the masterminds working on NASA’s latest physics experiment.
Sengupta, who is an Aerospace Engineer and a graduate in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering from the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California said she proposed the CAL mission for NASA.
Speaking to The Times of India, she said that the experiment, which took over five years to develop, will help one give new insight into the nature of the atom and early expansion of the universe. She said, “We have designed it to be modular, repairable and upgradable by astronauts on board the ISS and it can last for several years.”
According to Sengupta, these technology demonstrations are needed for future space-based quantum sensors which could enable more precise measurements of gravity, magnetic fields and in-space navigation and even help in developing quantum computers.
With such a large quest for mankind where the answers can change physics from the way we know it, Sengupta will have her name go down in history as an epic changemaker!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)