Bose-Einstein Condensate Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Sarah Caughron

Sarah has a master's degree in Applied Anthropology/Archaeology and has worked in formal and informal education since 2006.

What is very cold and called a super atom? It's Bose-Einstein condensate, which is a state of matter made in a scientist's laboratory. Read on to learn about the amazing properties of Bose-Einstein condensate, the fifth state of matter.

A New Type of Matter

Matter is anything that has mass (which measures how much matter there is) and takes up space. It is any kind of 'stuff' -it's what's all around you from the air you breathe to the chair you're sitting on. Atoms and molecules are made of up matter. You can find matter in many forms throughout the universe, but you will only find a few forms of matter here on Earth. You might be familiar with the four states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

As recently as the 1990s, a fifth type of matter was created called the Bose-Einstein condensate. Scientists working on the Bose-Einstein condensate (Cornell and Wieman) received a Nobel Prize for their work in 1995. This was a major scientific breakthrough for the fields of chemistry and physics, and is used today in technologies like making super-fast computer chips.

What is Bose-Einstein Condensate?

Bose-Einstein condensates are not like the forms of matter you are most familiar with such as solids and liquids. This form of matter is not vaporous like a gas or fluid like a liquid or hard like a solid. It's very hard to find the right words to describe the characteristics of Bose-Einstein condensate because it doesn't come from this world - you've never seen it! It is created in the realm of quantum mechanics(also called quantum physics), which is the branch of physics that deals with what is happening inside atoms. Atoms are like tiny Lego bricks that make up all of the stuff in the universe.

This is rubidium gas that has been cooled to ALMOST absolute zero. It is very cold! This image shows snapshots of the atoms in the gas condensing from less dense, red, to very dense, white.
Bose Einstein

Atoms are arranged in particular order and make up the things in our world here on earth. Atoms line up to create a chair or make water that fills a flower vase - atoms are even in the air! At very, very low temperatures (close to absolute 0, or around -273.15 Celsius), like those in space or created in a scientist's lab, atoms behave differently. They lose their identity and combine into a single blob-like shape that is often referred to as a super atom. To make Bose-Einstein condensate, scientists use a gas that is less dense than the air we breathe. An example of this is the gas of the element rubidium.

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