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UvA physicist Florian Schreck has made one of the most significant physics discoveries of the year. This is according to 'Physics World', the journal of the British Institute of Physics (IOP), which has added Schreck's research to its recently published list of 10 most important physics breakthroughs of 2013. Schreck – who is professor of Experimental Quantum Physics at the University of Amsterdam – and his team were the first in the world to produce a Bose-Einstein condensate exclusively through the use of laser cooling.

Florian Schreck. Copyright Markus Knabl/IQOQI

A Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) is a very special state of matter, in which a large number of atoms reach the lowest possible energy state. This makes the quantum effects visible on a macroscopic scale.

An ingenious trick 

All of the BECs that had been produced up to that point had to be cooled in two steps: first by using laser cooling and then evaporation cooling, which involves allowing the most energetic ‘warmer’ atoms to escape. This causes the temperature of the atoms to drop to very close to absolute zero, which is the point at which a BEC can be formed. Schreck’s team used an ingenious trick which made the second step of evaporation cooling unnecessary, so that the BEC could develop with laser cooling alone. The simplification of the process makes it possible to develop new areas of application for BECs.

The research results were published in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters. Schreck conducted his study at the Institute for Quantum Optics and Quantum Information (IQOQI) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Schreck and his team recently transferred to the UvA’s Institute of Physics, where Schreck intends to use the Consolidator Grant he was awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) to conduct research into the quantum mechanics of ‘many particle systems’.

Top 10 criteria

The top 10 was compiled by the editorial team of Physics World based on the following four criteria: 1.) a study of fundamental interest, 2.) a significant improvement of knowledge, 3.) a strong relationship between theory and experiment, and 4.) a general interest for physics at large.