A Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC) is a state of matter of a dilute gas of weakly interacting bosons confined in an external potential and cooled to temperatures very near absolute zero (0 K or −273.15 °C). Under such conditions, a large fraction of the bosons occupy the lowest quantum state of the external potential, at which point quantum effects become apparent on a macroscopic scale.
This state of matter was first predicted by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein in 1924–25. Bose first sent a paper to Einstein on the quantum statistics of light quanta (now called photons). Einstein was impressed, translated the paper himself from English to German and submitted it for Bose to the Zeitschrift für Physik which published it. Einstein then extended Bose’s ideas to material particles (or matter) in two other papers.
Seventy years later, the first gaseous condensate was produced by Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman in 1995 at the University of Colorado at Boulder NIST-JILA lab, using a gas of rubidium atoms cooled to 170 nanokelvin (nK). For their achievements Cornell, Wieman, and Wolfgang Ketterle at MIT received the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physics. In November 2010 the first photon BEC was observed.
Image: Successive occurrence of Bose-Einstein condensation in rubidium. From left to right is shown the atomic distribution in the cloud just prior to condensation, at the start of condensation and after full condensation. High peaks correspond to a large number of atoms. Silhouettes of the expanding atom cloud were recorded 6 ms after switching off the confining forces of the atom trap.