Almost all of matter is made of particles called fermions, which include electrons, protons and neutrons. Under specific conditions, all of these particles behave the same way, which means that scientists can examine the easier-to-study particles and also understand how the more difficult-to-study particles would act.
At CU-Boulder researchers are doing this by creating an ultracold atomic gas of fermions that can be used to gain insight into the quantum nature of atomic nuclei, electrons in a metal, and even neutron stars.
Putting fermions into a deep freeze slows the particles down, allowing physicists to better observe their behavior. “At room temperatures, atoms are moving very fast,” Chapurin said. “If you try to find out information about them, it’s going to be smeared—like looking at a sign as you’re traveling past it at 100 miles per hour.”
Chapurin joined a research group at CU-Boulder that studies ultracold Fermi gases. Using multiple lasers, the group cools potassium atoms to less than a millionth of a degree above the absolute zero. “At these temperatures, we can shed light on a variety of strange quantum phenonmena, such as superfluidity and superconductivity, that still puzzle physicists today,” Chapurin said.
More research from NSF fellows: