Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Quantum Behavior of 'Superatoms'?

That's what's promised for today's lecture in the Nobel Laureate Lecture Series. Not the behavior, but the explanation. Here's a foretaste from Wieman's "Abstract of the Lecture":

"The BEC state is a novel form of matter in which a large number of atoms lose their individual identities and behave as a single quantum entity, the 'superatom.' The entity is the atom analogue to laser light, and, although large enough to be easily seen and manipulated, exhibits the nonintuitive behavior normally important only at much tinier scales."

Wikipedia has a stub on the superatom, but it doesn't say a lot -- and nothing about the quantum weirdness alluded to by Wieman. But Wikipedia's article on the Bose-Einstein Condensate notes this intriguing suggestion:

"A rotating Bose-Einstein condensate could be used as a model black hole, allowing light to enter but not to escape."

But if rotating superatoms can act like black holes, wouldn't that imply that with superstoms, even quantum mechanics can break down, as noted in this Wikipedia article:

"Most physicists believe that quantum mechanics provides a correct description for the physical world under almost all circumstances. It seems likely that quantum mechanics fails in the vicinity of black holes."

Just an 'intuitive' hunch of mine. Should I ask Wieman -- even at the risk of embarrassment?


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