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Bose-Einstein Condensate

I. Spin: All fundamental particles, electrons, quarks, photons, and others, have a property called spin. A
particle can be thought of as spinning around an axis similar to how the Earth rotates around its axis. In
the figures below, the axis is arbitrarily up and named the z-axis. The curved arrows show the direction
of spin. If you take your right hand and curl your fingers in the direction of spin, your thumb will point
up or down (in the direction of the z-axis or opposite its direction). If your thumb is in the direction of
the z-axis, the particle is said to have a spin projection up (meaning that the spin is along the positive
z-axis); otherwise, it has a spin projection down (spin is in negative direction along the z-axis).

z axis
z axis


II. Bosons and Fermions: All particles are either bosons or fermions. A fermion is a particle with half-
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, , ,
integral spin. That means that fermions have spin 2 or 2 or 2 or some other half-integral value. You
may remember from chemistry that microscopic particles have properties that are quantized, meaning
they have values that change by one unit rather than continuously. If the spin of the particle is 2 and its
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spin is up, its spin projection is + 2 ; if its spin is down, the spin projection is - 2 . Elections, quarks,
protons, and neutrons are fermions that have spin 2 .
Bosons are particles with integral spin, meaning they have a spin of 0, or 1, or 2, or some other
integer. If the spin of a particle is 1 and its spin is up, its spin projection is +1; if its spin is down, its
spin projection if 1. However, now is there another possibility, the spin projection can be
perpendicular to the z-axis giving a spin projection of 0. Notice that all these spin projections change by
a unit of one. A photon (particle of light) has a spin of 1 making it a boson. The newly discovered
Higgs boson has a spin of 0.
You might ask, Why is this distinction made?, Why is this important?. Fermions and boson
have much different behaviors and interactions. In chemistry, you studied the Pauli Exclusion Principle,
or at least a variation of it. You may have learned that two electrons with the same spin projections
cannot occupy the same orbital.
The Pauli Exclusion Principle states that no two fermions can have the same quantum numbers.
You may remember that orbitals are specified by a set of quantum numbers. The orbital shells have
quantum numbers n, where n=1, 2, 3, etc. The orbitals in a shell have angular momentum quantum
numbers L with L = S, P, D, F, ..., where S=0, P=1, D=2, F=3, etc. The orbitals are further specified
by the projections of the angular momentum along the x-, y-, and z-axes. Thus there are Px, Py, and Pz
orbitals. You may remember that the orbitals of an atom have labels, 1S, 2S, 2Px, 2Py, 2Pz for the first
two shells.
Now why cant two electrons with the same spin projections be in the same orbital? The reason
is that spin and spin projection are also quantum numbers. If an election is in the 1S orbital with spin
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s = 2 and spin projection sz = + 2 , then another election with s = 2 and sz = + 2 cannot be in that
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orbital. The second electron has to have s = 2 and sz = - 2 . A third election cannot be in that orbital
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since there are only two choices for spin projections, + 2 or - 2 . The third election has to go to the 2S
orbital. Thus the Pauli Exclusion Principle force electrons to arrange themselves in atoms with different
quantum numbers. The arrangement of electrons in orbitals is what gives rise to the chemical
properties of atoms (and molecules).
Now can you guess what principle guides the interactions of boson? Bosons behave just the
opposite of fermions. Any number of bosons can have the same quantum numbers. One way to
interpret this is that any number of bosons can be in the same place with the same spins and the same
spin projections.

III. Formation of the condensate. Einstein and Bose in the 1930s predicted the properties of bosons.
Their theory raised the possibility that large number of bosons could all occupy the same space at the
same time if the thermal energy of the bosons could be removed. If the bosons have any motion, they
will not stay in the same space long enough to form a condensate. The technology of getting a large
number of bosons by themselves and then lowering their temperature to almost zero did not exist until
Thus the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) was an untested theory until 1995 when Eric Cornell
and Carl Wieman at the University of Colorado succeeded. They had to put a large number of bosons in
a high vacuum so that the bosons did not interact with air molecules. Then they had to trap the bosons
so they did not interact with the walls of the vacuum chamber. They used magnetic fields and lasers to
keep the bosons contained in the center of the chamber. Then they had to remove the energy of the
bosons until they were barely moving. The condensate did not form until the bosons had a temperature
of 10-9 Kelvin. You may remember that 0 Kelvin is called absolute zero because particles have no
motion at that temperature.
All this was incredibly difficult, but their choice of bosons helped them to succeed where many
other scientists had failed. Their bosons were 37 Rb atoms. (Rb is the chemical symbol for rubidium.)
To understand why this type of rubidium atom is a boson you have to remember that 85 is the mass
number of the atom (the number of protons and neutrons in the atom) and 37 is the atomic number of the
atom (the number of protons in the atom). Since the atoms are neutral, the number of electrons have to
equal the number of protons. Thus these rubidium atoms have 37 protons, 37 electrons, and 85-37 = 48
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neutrons. Thus rubidium has 122 particles with spin of 2 . All these particles either have sz = + 2 or
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sz = - 2 . The total spin projection of the atom is found by adding all the + 2 s and - 2 s together. For
an even number of particles, no matter how you add them the total spin projection of the atom is
integral, some value between -111 and +111. (The lowest energy state of these atoms have spin
projection 0 and spin 0.) Thus the spin of the atoms are integral, and these rubidium atoms are bosons.
Below is a picture of the formation of a BEC of rubidium atoms. The picture shows the number
of bosons in the vertical direction and the horizontal directions show the spatial dimensions of the trap.
On the left, the temperature is too high for the BEC to form; in the middle, the BEC has just formed; on
the right, the temperature has decreased even more, and the BEC is stably formed. When the BEC
forms, about 1019 bosons collapse into the space of one atom. Thus the BEC is the densest form of
matter in the universe.