What is Bose-Einstein condensation good for?
What sort of problems?
Well, first it is incredibly fragile. It is the most fragile thing that has
ever existed! Second, physicists are still making very small quantities of it,
only a few million atoms at a time. Finally, they can only make it out of a
few different types of atoms. However, physicists will certainly figure out
how to make more and different kinds, and handle it carefully enough to keep
Still, that doesn't mean it will be useful for anything.
No, you are right; it doesn't. However, the similarities between BEC and
laser light suggest that it probably will be. What makes laser light different
from ordinary light is that all the photons are exactly the same. They are the
same color and they are all going in the same direction. It is this
"specialness" that allows us to do all sorts of neat things with laser light,
because it means we can control laser light so much better than we could old
fashioned light from light bulbs. BEC shares this same "specialness" with
laser light. All the atoms in the condensate are exactly the same. So this
means that we now have much better control over atoms: where they are and how
fast they are moving. In fact, we now can control them as well as the
uncertainty principle will allow. From the similarities with laser light, it
is a pretty good bet that some day BEC will be good for making very sensitive
measurement instruments and maybe making tiny structures, like they use in
So should I start investing in BEC companies?
Maybe not right away. Remember, it took twenty years after their invention
before people started to realize how lasers could be useful. Now forty years
later they are being used in your grocery store, your dentist's office, and to
make your telephone work. So you will probably have to wait a few years
before BEC gets used very much outside the research lab.