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March 30th, 2006

Atoms rely on teamwork

University physicist Cheng Chin belongs to an international research team that has converted three normal atoms into a special new state of matter whose existence was proposed by Russian scientist Vitaly Efimov in 1970.

In this new state of matter, any two of the three atoms—in this case cesium atoms— repel one another in close proximity. “But when you put three of them together, it turns out that they attract and form a new state,” said Chin, an Assistant Professor in Physics and the College.

Today, nanotechnology researchers can combine atoms in novel ways to form materials with interesting new properties, “but you are not changing the fundamental interactions of these atoms,” Chin said. That can only be done at temperatures near absolute zero. “At the moment, I don’t see how this can be done at much higher temperatures,” he said.


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