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ScienceDaily (Dec. 11, 2010) — Using lasers to contain some ultra-chilled atoms, a team of scientists has measured the viscosity or stickiness of a gas often considered to be the sixth state of matter. The measurements verify that this gas can be used as a "scale model" of exotic matter, such as super-high temperature superconductors, the nuclear matter of neutron stars, and even the state of matter created microseconds after the Big Bang
Under the ultra-cold conditions, the properties of the gas are determined by a universal ruler, or natural length scale, much like the scale on an architect's drawing. The ruler for the atomic gas is the average spacing between the atoms. According to quantum physics, this spacing determines all other natural scales, such as the scale for energy, temperature and viscosity, making the ultra-cold gas a scale model for other exotic matter. Thomas said that he and others have verified the gas as a universal scale model for properties such as temperature, but this is the first time they've tested the scaling of viscosity, which happens to be of particular interest to scientists right now.
"The measurements do not test string theory directly," Thomas said, noting a few caveats-- the lower bound is derived for high-energy systems, where Einstein's theory of relativity is essential, while the Fermi gas experiments study low-energy gases. If string theorists create new calculations specifically for a Fermi gas, scientists would be able to make precise experimental tests of the theory with equipment no larger than a desktop.