Spin Classification

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Spin Classification

© All Rights Reserved

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One essential parameter for classification of particles is their "spin" or intrinsic angular

momentum. Half-integer spin fermions are constrained by the Pauli Exclusion Principle whereas

integer spin bosons are not. The electron is a fermion with electron spin 1/2.

The spin classification of particles determines the nature of the energy distribution in a collection

of the particles. Particles of integer spin obey Bose-Einstein statistics, whereas those of half-

integer spin behave according to Fermi-Dirac statistics.

Fermions

Fermions are particles which have half-integer spin and therefore are constrained by the Pauli

Exclusion Principle. Particles with integer spin are called bosons. Fermions include electrons,

protons, and neutrons. The wave function which describes a collection of fermions must be

antisymmetric with respect to the exchange of identical particles, while the wave function for a

collection of bosons is symmetric.

The fact that electrons are fermions is foundational to the buildup of the periodic table of the

elements since there can be only one electron for each state in an atom (only one electron for

each possible set of quantum numbers). The fermion nature of electrons also governs the

behavior of electrons in a metal where at low temperatures all the low energy states are filled up

to a level called the Fermi energy. This filling of states is described by Fermi-Dirac statistics.

Bosons

Bosons are particles which have integer spin and which therefore are not constrained by the Pauli

Exclusion Principle like the half-integer spin fermions. The energy distribution of bosons is

described by Bose-Einstein statistics. The wave function which describes a collection of bosons

must be symmetric with respect to the exchange of identical particles, while the wave function

for a collection of fermions is antisymmetric.

At low temperatures, bosons can behave very differently than fermions because an unlimited

number of them can collect into the same energy state. The collection into a single state is called

condensation, or Bose-Einstein condensation. It is responsible for the phenomenon of

superfluidity in liquid helium. Coupled particles can also act effectively as bosons. In the BCS

Theory of superconductivity, coupled pairs of electrons act like bosons and condense into a state

which demonstrates zero electrical resistance.

Bosons include photons and the characterization of photons as particles with frequency-

dependent energy given by the Planck relationship allowed Planck to apply Bose-Einstein

statistics to explain the thermal radiation from a hot cavity.

Bose-Einstein Condensation

In 1924 Einstein pointed out that bosons could "condense" in unlimited numbers into a single

ground state since they are governed by Bose-Einstein statistics and not constrained by the Pauli

Exclusion Principle. Little notice was taken of this curious possibility until the anomalous

behavior of liquid helium at low temperatures was studied carefully.

capacity occurs, the liquid density drops, and a fraction of the liquid becomes a zero viscosity

"superfluid". Superfluidity arises from the fraction of helium atoms which has condensed to the

lowest possible energy.

A condensation effect is also credited with producing superconductivity. In the BCS Theory,

pairs of electrons are coupled by lattice interactions, and the pairs (called Cooper pairs) act like

bosons and can condense into a state of zero electrical resistance.

The conditions for achieving a Bose-Einstein condensate are quite extreme. The participating

particles must be considered to be identical, and this is a condition that is difficult to achieve for

whole atoms. The condition of indistinguishability requires that the deBroglie wavelengths of the

particles overlap significantly. This requires extremely low temperatures so that the deBroglie

wavelengths will be long, but also requires a fairly high particle density to narrow the gap

between the particles.

Since the 1990s there has been a surge of research into Bose-Einstein

condensation since it was discovered that Bose-Einstein condensates

could be formed with ultra-cold atoms. The use of laser cooling and the

trapping of ultra-cold atoms with magnetic traps has produced

temperatures in the nanokelvin range. Cornell and Wieman along with

Ketterle of MIT received the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics "for the

achievement of Bose-Einstein condensation in dilute gases of alkali

atoms, and for early fundamental studies of the properties of the

condensates". Cornell and Wieman led an active group at the University

of Colorado, Boulder which has produced Bose-Einstein condensates

with rubidium atoms. Other groups at MIT, Harvard and Rice have been

very active in this rapidly advancing field.

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