In a first, a team of physicists is using artificial intelligence (AI) to run a complex experiment to create an extremely cold gas trapped in a laser beam known as a Bose-Einstein condensate -- thus replicating the experiment that won the 2001 Nobel Prize.
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Bose-Einstein condensates are some of the coldest places in the universe -- far colder than outer space and typically less than a billionth of a degree above absolute zero.
They can be used for mineral exploration or navigation systems as they are extremely sensitive to external disturbances, which allows them to make very precise measurements such as tiny changes in the Earth's magnetic field or gravity.
Indian physicist Satyendra Nath Bose, along with German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, founded the basis for Bose-Einstein statistics. It describes the statistical distribution of identical particles with integer spin, now called subatomic particle or the “God particle” Boson.
Britain's Peter Higgs and Belgian Francois Englert won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the “God particle”.
“I didn't expect the machine could learn to do the experiment itself, from scratch, in under an hour," said co-lead researcher Paul Wigley from the Canberra-based Australian National University (ANU).
The experiment was developed by physicists from ANU and University of New South Wales at the Australian Defense Force Academy (UNSW ADFA).
"A simple computer program would have taken longer than the age of the Universe to run through all the combinations and work this out,” Wigley added.
The artificial intelligence system's ability to set itself up quickly every morning and compensate for any overnight fluctuations would make this fragile technology much more useful for field measurements.
“You could make a working device to measure gravity that you could take in the back of a car, and the artificial intelligence would recalibrate and fix itself no matter what," noted co-lead researcher Dr Michael Hush from UNSW ADFA.
The team cooled the gas to around one microkelvin and then handed control of the three laser beams over to the artificial intelligence to cool the trapped gas down to nanokelvin.
Researchers were surprised by the methods the system came up with to ramp down the power of the lasers.
"It did things a person wouldn't guess such as changing one laser's power up and down and compensating with another," said Wigley.
“We now plan to employ the artificial intelligence to build an even larger Bose-Einstein condensate faster than we've seen ever before," noted Dr Hush in a paper published in the Nature group journal Scientific Reports.
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Paul Wigley, left and Michael Hus. Image Stuart Hay, ANU