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Volume 582 Issue 7811, 11 June 2020

Defying gravity

Cooling and trapping atomic gases to form a Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC) allows quantum behaviour to be examined at a macroscopic scale. But it is hard to exert precise control over these exotic states of matter when gravity interferes. In this week’s issue, Robert Thompson, David Aveline and their colleagues take a marked step away from gravity’s constraints and present details of the first BEC to be created in orbit. The researchers made use of the Cold Atom Laboratory, which was installed in the International Space Station in June 2018. Freed from the pull of gravity, the freely evolving BEC was sufficiently stable to allow for longer observation and could be held in types of traps that cannot be used on Earth. The ability to generate and maintain BECs on the space station should offer the potential to perform high-precision measurements of fundamental quantum effects.

Cover image: Jasiek Krzysztofiak/Nature

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