2003 NASA/JPL Workshop on Fundamental Physics in Space

The 2003 NASA/JPL Workshop on Fundamental Physics in Space was held on April 14-16 in Oxnard, CA. 75 persons attended the talks and poster presentations. Topics included at the workshop were progress in research, new technology development, and new ideas for space research.

A highlight was the comment by several of the presenters that the Fundamental Physics program now includes in the laser-cooled atoms subdiscipline half of the research groups capable of investigating degenerate Fermi gas systems. Wolfgang Ketterle, Randy Hulet, and John Thomas all lead groups searching for unusual phenomena in these systems. The experimenters apply a Feshbach resonance brought on by tuning an external magnetic field to adjust how strongly the atoms interact.

One hope is to observe a BCS-like pairing of the fermions into a superfluid state. Fermi systems are difficult to cool because Pauli exclusion prevents s-wave interactions that allow rapid equilibration. Thus, tricks involving sympathetic cooling with an interpenetrating cloud of refrigerator atoms are employed. Hulet reported reaching temperatures below 10% of the Fermi temperature TF, well under temperatures predicted for the transition by theorists. One problem these groups face is how to recognize the superfluid state when they reach it. Experimenters anticipate new insights into high-temperature superconductivity once the superfluid can be studied.