Scientists Create New Form of Matter: 'Supersolids' Are Solid and Liquid at the Same Time

Mar 06, 2017 08:14 AM EST

Scientists have achieved the impossible, creating a new state of matter that combines the properties of a solid and a liquid: the "supersolid". Two groups were able to come up with different methods to arrive at this new "supersolid" state, an impressive feat that could change the landscape of science as we know it.

After all, for the longest time, the world operated with four states of matter in mind: solid, liquid, gas and plasma. Now, there's a new one in place, the supersolids. In an article published in Nature, Kaden Hazzard, a faculty member at Rice University, described a supersolid as maintaining a rigid shape like a typical solid, but is able to flow like a liquid and actually behaves with the viscosity of a superliquid.

According to a report from Gizmodo, the two teams reached the "supersolid" state using different methods. However, both groups began by making a Bose-Einstein condensate, which is a hyper cold gas that consists of atoms with even numbers of electrons and can exhibit quantum mechanic effects such as flowing without any resistance. The next step for the researchers was to give their condensate the rigidity of a solid.

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The team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), led by John D. MacArthur Professor of Physics Wolfgang Ketterle, used laser beams to convert half of the condensate's atoms to a different quantum state or spin, according to a report from MIT News. The result was essentially a fusion of two different Bose-Einstein condensates.

Meanwhile, the group from ETH Zurich in Switzerland used mirrors to create their version of a supersolid, keeping the rubidium atom condensate between mirrors. With the light particles bouncing back and forth, a crystalline pattern was eventually created.

Innovation in this field could offer valuable insight and practical uses in technologies like superconducting magnets, sensors and energy transport.

Both papers by the MIT team and the ETH Zurich team were published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

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