Every junior high kid knows there are three forms of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. You take a solid and heat it enough, and it becomes a liquid. You take the liquid and heat it still further, and it becomes a gas.
In high school, many kids learn there’s a fourth state of matter: plasma. Heat a gas enough, and it becomes ionized and turns to plasma. The fire in a standard wood-burning fireplace is an example of a plasma.
But a few years ago, researchers discovered a fifth state of matter, called a Bose-Einstein condensate. It only occurs at extremely low (near absolute zero) temperatures, and involves a radical phase change in the arrangement of subatomic particles.
And this week, researchers announced a sixth state of matter: a fermionic condensate (that’s a mouthful!). Again accomplished at very low temperatures, it has the interesting property of twisting the laws of quantum dynamics to allow subatomic particles to exist in states they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.
Why is this newsworthy? (Or, more precisely, journal-worthy?) Because I think it demonstrates how scientific knowledge continues to increase at a breakneck (actually exponential) pace. There are amazing discoveries every day– many of which are never heard by the general public. I don’t expect high school textbooks to include discussions of, say, Bose-Einstein condensates any time soon… but it’s important to realize how incredible these scientific advances are.
Coming soon? Room-temperature superconductors (based on fermionic condensates) that will revolutionize the generation and distribution of electrical power. Now that would be newsworthy!