I spent an evening with a Nobel Prize winner last night; me and about three hundred others, at Auckland University's Robb lecture given by physicist Carl Weiman.
Carl Weiman won his prize for producing a Bose-Einsten condensate, meaning that he and his team had managed to cool a collection of atoms down to just billionths of a degree greater than Absolute Zero, the temperature at which there is neither molecular nor atomic motion. Nothing in nature occurs at this temperature -- the background temperature of deep space is some three degrees higher -- so as Weiman pointed out, he can say with complete confidence that his lab in Colorado is the coldest place in the universe.
Production of a small piece of matter this cold does two things: First, it confirms a prediction made nearly eighty years ago by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein; and second, it produces a bunch of atoms with some size that are in a single quantum state -- that picture above shows the representation of one of these 'superatoms' being formed; it is in the order of 0.1 mm across! Given that this 'superatom' can be produced on a table-top, instead of needing a cyclotron the size of a cricket oval or more, this is an enormous breakthrough, one offering tremendous opportunities for discovering more abut the quantum universe, and numerous potential technological spinoffs.
Weiman is also intensely interested in the methods of science education -- in his lectures he uses numerous ingenious java applets and other methods to demonstrate difficult scientific concepts in an easy-to-understand manner. Weiman's applets to support this lecture can be found here; his website chockfull of Interactive Physics Simulations is intended to help explain the fundamental concepts of physics, and it's also loads of fun.
The good news is that if this interests you and you missed last night's lecture, there are still two more to come. Details here.