Spin ClassificationOne essential parameter for classification of particles is their "spin" or intrinsic angular momentum. Halfinteger spin fermions are constrained by the Pauli exclusion principle whereas integer spin bosons are not. The electron is a fermion with electron spin 1/2. The spin classification of particles determines the nature of the energy distribution in a collection of the particles. Particles of integer spin obey BoseEinstein statistics, whereas those of halfinteger spin behave according to FermiDirac statistics. 
Index  

Go Back 
FermionsFermions are particles which have halfinteger spin and therefore are constrained by the Pauli exclusion principle. Particles with integer spin are called bosons. Fermions include electrons, protons, neutrons. The wavefunction which describes a collection of fermions must be antisymmetric with respect to the exchange of identical particles, while the wavefunction for a collection of bosons is symmetric. The fact that electrons are fermions is foundational to the buildup of the periodic table of the elements since there can be only one electron for each state in an atom (only one electron for each possible set of quantum numbers). The fermion nature of electrons also governs the behavior of electrons in a metal where at low temperatures all the low energy states are filled up to a level called the Fermi energy. This filling of states is described by FermiDirac statistics. 
Index  

Go Back 
BosonsBosons are particles which have integer spin and which therefore are not constrained by the Pauli exclusion principle like the halfinteger spin fermions. The energy distribution of bosons is described by BoseEinstein statistics. The wavefunction which describes a collection of bosons must be symmetric with respect to the exchange of identical particles, while the wavefunction for a collection of fermions is antisymmetric. At low temperatures, bosons can behave very differently than fermions because an unlimited number of them can collect into the same energy state. The collection into a single state is called condensation, or BoseEinstein condensation. It is responsible for the phenomenon of superfluidity in liquid helium. Coupled particles can also act effectively as bosons. In the BCS Theory of superconductivity, coupled pairs of electrons act like bosons and condense into a state which demonstrates zero electrical resistance. Bosons include photons and the characterization of photons as particles with frequencydependent energy given by the Planck relationship allowed Planck to apply BoseEinstein statistics to explain the thermal radiation from a hot cavity. 
Index  

Go Back 
BoseEinstein CondensationIn 1924 Einstein pointed out that bosons could "condense" in unlimited numbers into a single ground state since they are governed by BoseEinstein statistics and not constrained by the Pauli exclusion principle. Little notice was taken of this curious possibility until the anomalous behavior of liquid helium at low temperatures was studied carefully. When helium is cooled to a critical temperature of 2.17 K, a remarkable discontinuity in heat capacity occurs, the liquid density drops, and a fraction of the liquid becomes a zero viscosity "superfluid". Superfluidity arises from the fraction of helium atoms which has condensed to the lowest possible energy. A condensation effect is also credited with producing superconductivity. In the BCS Theory, pairs of electrons are coupled by lattice interactions, and the pairs (called Cooper pairs) act like bosons and can condense into a state of zero electrical resistance. The conditions for achieving a BoseEinstein condensate are quite extreme. The participating particles must be considered to be identical, and this is a condition that is difficult to achieve for whole atoms. The condition of indistinguishability requires that the deBroglie wavelengths of the particles overlap significantly. This requires extremely low temperatures so that the deBroglie wavelengths will be long, but also requires a fairly high particle density to narrow the gap between the particles.

Index  

Go Back 