STOA annual lecture - the coldest matter in the universe

November 6, 2003

Brussels, 05 Nov 2003

Professor Wolfgang KETTERLE, 2001 Nobel Prize Winner for causing atoms to "sing in unison" at extremely low temperatures and thereby discovering a new state of matter, gave the second annual STOA lecture on the coldest matter in the universe.

This matter is known as the Bose-Einstein condensates (BEC), after Satyendara Nath Bose and Albert Einstein, who predicted its creation at close to absolute zero (-3°C or -460°F). The discovery of BEC was made at on 30 September 1995 at 6am in a laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Professor Ketterle explained that BEC could potentially be used in atom lasers, for improving the accuracy of atomic clocks and global positioning systems, atom sensors and improving the speed of microchips.

What is special about BEC, the Professor stated, was that atoms moved in one single wave or "march in lockstep". (At higher temperatures, gas atoms move randomly). "More than a million times colder than interstellar space" is how Professor Ketterle described the new matter created at quasi-absolute zero. Atoms slow down at low temperatures, from the speed of jet planes to less than 1cm per second and move in one single wave. The atoms in the gas were cooled down by both laser and evaporative cooling and were suspended in magnetic fields, a microscopic hole was made in the magnetic field and the kinetic energy or temperature of the atoms was measured.

In the question and answer session, Professor Ketterle stressed the importance of supporting fundamental scientific research, argued for the creation of European centres of excellence for scientific research to compete with the US and Japan. He added that true scientific breakthroughs only happen in a few top laboratories.

Malcolm HARBOUR (EPP-ED, UK), ending the lecture, underlined that policy-makers should strongly support fundamental research and trust leading scientists to carry out research. Policy makers drawing up the EU's 7th Framework Programme for research would have to take risks and allow scientists to take independent non-prescriptive decisions.

For the first STOA annual lecture: see News Report.

05.11.2003 Second STOA Annual Lecture
In the chair: Antonios TRAKATELLIS (EPP-ED, GR) (Chairman of STOA)

Press enquiries:Richard Freedman - tel. (32-2) 28 41448e-mail:

European Parliament News Report 2003-11-05

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