(a) In a donut, shaped, or “toroidal” trap, atoms mostly exist in a red ring and do not reside in the center (blue region), which represents an energy hill they cannot climb. (b) Image of a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) in the donut trap. (c) When there is no fluid flow around the donut and the trap is turned off, atoms (red) rush to the center. (d) When fluid flows around the donut and the trap is turned off, the current around the donut persists and does not rush to fill the hole.  (Source: NIST)
"Practical" applications still years away for perpetual motion

The National Institute of Standards and Technology, in conjunction with the University of Maryland's Joint Quantum Institute, created a short-lived "proof of concept" of perpetual motion. Using an exotic type of matter known as a Bose Einstein condensate, or BEC, the team demonstrated true perpetual motion.  Though the state persisted only ten seconds, team members say it will one day lead to real-world applications.

The so-called "fifth state of matter," Bose Einstein condensates were predicted as early as 1925, but it took 70 years to demonstrate them in a laboratory setting. They form when matter is cooled to the point that the atoms collapse to the lowest energy state, allowing quantum effects to manifest on a macroscopic scale. BECs, also known as "superfluids," have a number of strange properties, such as a total lack of any form of friction and the ability to spontaneously flow out of an open container.

Usually barred by the laws of thermodynamics, perpetual motion is possible at the macroscopic level when friction is completely eliminated -- the state one finds in a BEC. The NIST demonstration used laser-cooled sodium atoms flowing within a torus to demonstrate the superfluid state. So far, their longest attempt persisted for only ten seconds; the team is attempting to lengthen the period in a future prototype.

While ten seconds of perpetual motion may not be terribly impressive to the layman, NIST officials say it may one day lead to novel applications, such as lossless energy storage, ultra-sensitive navigation sensors, and others.

Earlier this year, a team of physicists at Harvard used a BEC to directly convert energy and matter into each other.

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