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Molecules get a big chill

New method takes big atom groups closer to long-sought temperatures

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12:50pm, August 13, 2012

Stopping big molecules cold in their tracks just got a little easier, thanks to a new trick that nudges them closer to ultracold temperatures.

Physicists have previously chilled atoms and pairs of atoms to fractions of a degree above absolute zero — a lab feat that has revealed new physics and chemistry of matter. Now, German scientists have started to do the same for molecules made of many atoms.

The work is “a real important step forward towards realizing cold and ultracold molecular samples,” says Guido Pupillo, a physicist with the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Strasbourg.

Supercold temperatures can bring superhot discoveries. Early studies, for instance, showed how ultracold atoms can lose their individual identities and behave instead as a single quantum entity. Later work allowed scientists to manipulate how two ultracold atoms join together.

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