10 Impossible Things Physicists Just Made Possible

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In the strange world of physics, the impossible is always possible. But in recent times, many scientists have managed to outdo even this caveat and have achieved some spectacular firsts.

10. Law-Bending Coldness

In the past, scientists couldn’t cool an object beyond a barrier called the “quantum limit.”[1] To make something frosty, a laser must slow its atoms and their heat-producing vibrations. Ironically, laser light brings warmth to the deal. Despite lowering temperature, it also prevents it from dropping below the quantum limit. Surprisingly, physicists designed a drum of vibrating aluminum and managed to lower its temperature to 360 microKelvin, or 10,000 times more chilled than the depths of space. The drum measured 20 micrometers in diameter (a human hair is 40–50 micrometers), and the experiment defied the famous limit.

Once thought to be impossible, the breakthrough was a novel laser technique that can “squeeze” light, directing the particles with a more intense stability in one direction. This removed the laser’s fluctuations that added heat. The drum is the most frigid mechanical object ever recorded but not the coldest matter, which is a Bose-Einstein condensate. Even so, the achievement could one day play a part in superfast electronics and help unravel the stranger behaviors of the quantum world that appear when materials approach their physical limits.

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