Indian-American Behind Key NASA Project


Anita Sengupta, an Indian-American scientist and the brain behind Nasa’s latest physics experiment to create the coldest spot in the universe. National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s, Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL) takes cold environment to extreme levels. The spot created by CAL is expected to be 10 billion times colder than the vacuum of space.

CAL is heading to the International Space Station (ISS) by an Antares rocket from Nasa’s Wallops facility at Virginia. This could lead to a number of technologies, including sensors, quantum computers and atomic clocks used in spacecraft navigation. CAL will make it possible to observe these ultra-cold atoms much longer in the microgravity environment.

Anita Sengupta, an aerospace engineer with a Ph.D. from the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California, had earlier pioneered the revolutionary supersonic parachute system that was deployed during the landing of Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity. From 2012 to 2017 she managed and led the development of the CAL, a laser-cooling quantum physics facility for the ISS. She is currently a senior vice-president of Systems Engineering at Virgin Hyperloop One.

For the scientific community, the absolute zero temperature concept has always been a source of fuel. At this temperature all molecular motion ceases i.e. it loses most of its vibrational motion and possesses only quantum mechanical zero-point energy (the lowest possible energy) induced particle motion. The primary objective of the CAL is to inspect ultra-cold quantum gases in the microgravity environment of the ISS.

The CAL uses a high-grade vacuum chamber and a series of powerful lasers but what remains is the need to eliminate the gravity. At ISS  it will find the needed zero gravity. Once there, the CAL will begin experimenting on Bose-Einstein condensate exotic forms of matter that appear only at extremely cold temperatures.

Anita Sengupta said, “The experiment creates a Bose-Einstein condensate inside of a vacuum chamber. That is where the cold temperature is demonstrated.

These condensates exist for ten seconds or more in the space before they collapse but on earth, they exist only for a second. This will provide scientists with a better opportunity at studying them and see their working when in space.