Technological development, as well as human interest, is surprisingly said by the Nobel Prize in Physics, Professor Wolfgang Ketterle, Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But it's not enough. Speaking with IQ Reviewer Coutry Tamkute, he said that in order to change people's lives we must ensure synergy between science, politics and business.
– 2001 you and your colleagues Eric A. Cornell and Carl Wiemann have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the Creation of a Atomic Bose-Einstein Condensate – and the study of its physical properties. How do you assess the importance of this study?
– The Nobel Prize for Physics was dedicated to the initial insights on Bose-Einstein's condensation, which underpinned further research. We have managed to reach the lowest temperature ever achieved in the laboratory. We have cooled the atoms to close to zero (-273.15 degrees Celsius) of lasers, and we have created an environmentally friendly refrigerator. During the studies, we made it possible to discover new and investigate existing materials. In my opinion, this has led to the life of technology. Today, scientists do not see the condensation themselves, but they use the same technology to achieve even lower temperatures.
It allows us to keep control of the fundamental laws of nature in our hands. Atoms in high temperature move fast and by mistake. They are calm in a state of calm. So let's make them look like leggings – create new, non-existent material. It is the driving force behind this research area.
I will give you an example with a nice one. Imagine you are in a very hot place in the world, you have never seen snow or ice. You can only see them if your country's scientist built a refrigerator. Suddenly opening the door you see what you have never dreamed about: snowflakes that form at low temperatures from drops of water.
With the help of this metaphor we can also explain the importance of cool atoms to absolute zero technology – we suddenly discovered a snowfall that could only exist at the nanoclay's temperature. This has caused people's interest. It was further reinforced by the fact that Albert Einstein himself wanted to find such a snowfall.
– At the beginning of this year, the American National Aeronautical and Space Research Agency (NASA) has reported a space-setting laboratory to conduct material testing in absolute zero. How do they differ from surveys on the ground?
"When we study material on the ground, we must always think about gravity. This prevents the collection of unstopped information about a particular substance. As known, kinetic energy reduces to a minimum at low temperatures, and gravity is no longer in space. For this reason, NASA's research moves to space.
Let me give you an example: Imagine that you should freeze a glass of water. The liquid on the surface of the bowl placed in the chamber does not cover the ice. But if you repeat the same thing in space, the ice will also cover all water, not just on the surface. This is just a small example of how the basic principles of interaction with substances do not change when gravity is not working.
On the other hand, research in such an environment is more accurate. In the absence of gravity forces, atoms are in a constant state of free fall. This allows for a much longer and more accurate measurement of their behavior, acting on them with other forces, testing theories and our perception of gravity itself.
The fact that 1999 was extremely difficult to create a large, equipped laboratory, can now take place in a small space station that monitors everything at a distance.
In fact, the ability to cool atoms to absolutely zero in space is unmatched. Imagine what has been hardened in 1999 in a large, well-equipped laboratory, today you can go to a small space station under the supervision of everything at a distance. Surprisingly, how far the technology has advanced.
– If today's technology allows space exploration, what are future discoveries in applied physics?
"Today we have more and better tools and much more knowledge to do new research than ever before. Of course, as a scientist, I only expect more research and inventions. We controlled the freezing atoms technology and were given the opportunity to control their movement. This is important for quantum technology and quantum computers. We already have an interest for them both from the state and from private companies, and in my opinion, this area will be further expanded in the future, and interest will only grow.
If you let me speculate, I would say that superconductors will create a technology revolution in the future. If we can transfer energy from one country to another without losing losses, and we learn to use superconductors on computers, it will enable us to create even the latest technology.
However, I try to speak very carefully. There are so many "about". We still do not know everything about the cooling of atoms, the temperature required for the transfer of energy, we can not say if superconductors can work under normal conditions at higher temperatures. On the other hand, we have not found any physical obstacle to do so. Today, researchers are looking at all possibilities, trying to explain all possible results, but only one of them will have real and significant significance to society.
– Is all this – research, invention, ideas, their implementation – just in the hands of the researchers and their responsibilities?
"Our work, researchers and researchers are actually discovering new things. Later everything falls into the hands of politicians. After all, in laboratories, universities we do not create products, just their prototypes. Quantum technology is today the subject of the largest researchers and decision makers from Europe to the United States. Leading parties believe investing billions of euros in this field of research will bring real change.
The public needs at least several researchers who want to discover something new – not just developing existing ideas without going on an unscheduled route.
On the other hand, changes are unthinkable, for example, without teachers. Society development requires three pillars. The first is knowledge, created by research and analysis. The other is definitely people. They grow up in schools. The research I leave can not be imagined without the intelligent students graduated from good schools. In order not to end, we develop products that change people's lives and require technical programs that are usually funded by governments. When our product is mature, we can expect that we take over the business. But for the most part, there is a big gap between the knowledge about the university and the moment the product starts to bring profits, it can take over business.
– What are the researchers' motivation to carry out different studies, experiments? It seems that they move on with the goal of facilitating people's lives. But the opportunity to explain the laws of the universe and its existence is the ultimate goal and the outcome of their work.
– Interestingly, both of these aspects are often related. We strive to understand how nature works. It inspires a variety of techniques. For example atomic watches. They can calculate the vibration of light at atoms. It is a technique that denies the purpose of its inventors. In the early fifties, such watches were created by people who would explain relativity. Then they did not think that their invention would be used for navigation, for the GPS system, for communication synchronization. Today's nuclear watches are so sensitive that they can be used to detect gravity – geological anomalies.
So, we, researchers, get the opportunity to discover new things. At the same time, we want to make the world a better place to live. Previously, we have seen: if too much attention is focused on what is good for humanity there are obstacles to discover fundamentally new things.
The public needs at least several researchers who want to discover something new – not just developing existing ideas without going on an unscheduled route. And of course, it takes of course only one step so we can not predict what all of this will end.
A German-based physicist specializing in cold atoms, laser spectroscopy research.
1995. was one of the first scientists to see the state of atoms – the Bose-Einstein condensate.
1997. created the first atomic laser.
2001. Together with colleagues awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.
He is currently a member of the Executive Council for the Center for Higher Education (CEE).
At the invitation of Vilnius University and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Vilnius a general lecture was held "Discover the recipe: approaching absolutely zero temperatures".