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States of Matter

Sep 28, 1994 08:07 PM
by Eldon B. Tucker

This is by Eldon Tucker

       Following is some information and comments from an
interesting article by David H. Freedman, "What Happens
When Matter Snuggles up to Absolute Zero?" in DISCOVER,
February, 1993. (This is the first of perhaps two pieces
on the article.)

---- States of Matter

       Consider water. If we make it cold, it undergoes a
state change and becomes icy. If we heat it, it becomes
steam. These are observable state changes in our
everyday-life world. There are more states of matter
(some not yet proven to exist), along the temperature
scale, than these. The temperature scale might be broken
as follows, going from coldest to hottest:

1. water molecules in 'nirvana', molecules occupy entire
space, unify into one
2. water molecules exist, in magical state of
superconductivity, superfluity
3. water molecules exist, in solid state
4. water molecules exist, in liquid state
5. water molecules exist, in gas state
6. oxygen & hydrogen atoms exist, after breakdown of
water molecules
7. electrons & atomic nuclei exist, in plasma state,
after atoms breakdown
8. atomic nuclei break into protons and neutrons
9. protons break into quarks
10. quark matter exists, is everything

       The article is about the scientific quest to prove
state (1) above. The coldest natural spot in the
universe is -454 degrees Fahrenheit, somewhere in
intergalactic space. The coldest known spot in the
universe is in Boulder, Colorado, a space of 1/4 inch
inside a lipstick-size glass tube. It contains about one
billionth the number of atoms as found in normal air.
Its atoms do almost nothing; they lazily float about.
This space has been cooled to one millionth a degree of
absolute zero, -460 degrees.
       At a yet colder temperature, a new, strange state
of matter is predicted, one that may otherwise not exist
in the universe. It is expected that matter will lose
*all motion* except for a residual buzz, a visible
manifestation of quantum mechanics at work. Atoms are
expected to condense into a single entity, and all
occupy the same place at the same time. There will be
one big fuzzy atom. This change of state of matter is
called the Bose-Einstein condensation. It represents a
unified state where each Atom becomes "one with the

       In our studies, we drawn upon natural phenomena for
analogies to understanding the mysteries of life. We
have the concept, for instance, of fire, air, water, and
earth, which correspond to plasma, gas, liquid, and
solid. Or we have fire, air, water, earth, and wood, for
which we could add, after the solid state, the state of
superconductivity, of superfluity, wherein solid matter
takes on magical properties. Since there are more than
these five states, we can extend our analogies further,
and perhaps learn more about the inner structure of life
than we previously knew.

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