It’s been more than two decades since Carl Wieman, Eric Cornell, and their co-workers created the first Bose–Einstein condensate (BEC), confirming that a macroscopic population of integer-spin particles will pile into a single quantum ground state if cooled below some critical temperature. (See Physics Today, August 1995, page 17.) After all those years, the recipe for creating the condensates remains virtually unchanged: Laser cooling chills the cloud of atoms as close to the critical temperature as it can, and when that technique can go no further, evaporative cooling does the rest.

Experimenters have long sought to bypass the evaporative cooling step, a slow process that jettisons most of a cloud’s atoms in order to cool the remaining few. The process can take seconds, sometimes more than a minute, to unfold. Afterward, typically less than 1% of the original atoms remain.

Now MIT researchers led by Vladan Vuletić have...

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