Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Einstein/Boise Theory
Name: Kathryn
Status: student
Age: 13
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 1999 

What exactly is the Einstein/Boise theory?


My best guess is you're talking about Bose-Einstein statistics, because the ``Bose condensation'' has been in the news, sort of, lately.

We begin the (long) answer with a question: how many different results are there if you flip 1 coin? The answer is obviously 2: H (heads) or T (tails). What if you flip 2 coins? The answer is 4: HH, HT, TH, or TT. We might think of this as follows: for EACH result of flipping the 1st coin (H or T) we have 2 results for flipping the 2nd. Hence the total number of results is 2 x 2 = 4. In the same way if we had 3 coins we could think: for EACH result of flipping the 1st, we have 2 choices for flipping the 2nd, and for EACH of those we have 2 choices for fliping the 3rd, which gives 2 x 2 x 2 = 8 results, namely HHH, HHT, HTH, HTT, THH, THT, TTH, TTT.

Objects that behave this way, where the number of results for N objects is equal to the number of results for 1 object multiplied by itself N times, are said to obey Boltzmann statistics. Practically every object you know of (people, cars, balls of strings, leaves) obeys Boltzmann statistics.

But atoms do not. Why not? Let's consider a situation at first sight identical to our coins. How many ways are there to put 1 object into a set of two boxes? The obvious answer is 2, as follows:
       -----    -----          -----    -----
      | O   |  |     |        |     |  | O   |
       -----    -----          -----    -----

This seems to be identical to our previous situation if we consider the object to be a coin, and label the boxes HEADS and TAILS.

Okay, then, how many ways are there to put 2 exactly identical objects into a set of two boxes? From our coin work, we might think, gee, obviously 2 x 2 = 4. Not so. Because the objects are EXACTLY IDENTICAL, the answer is 3, as follows:
       -----    -----       -----    -----       -----    -----
      | O   |  | O   |     | O O |  |     |     |     |  | O O |
       -----    -----       -----    -----       -----    -----

It is only if the objects are slightly different that the answer is 4, as follows:
 -----   -----   -----   -----   -----   -----   -----   -----
| O   | | o   | | o   | | O   | | O o | |     | |     | | O o |
 -----   -----   -----   -----   -----   -----   -----   -----

We must conclude that only objects that are different obey Boltzmann statistics. Objects that are exactly identical behave differently: they are said to obey Bose-Einstein statistics.

How do we square this with our results for coins? Aren't coins identical? Why do they obey Boltzmann statistics? The answer is that the coins are NOT exactly identical, for a very subtle reason: we see one being flipped before the other. The coins are different by virtue (and only by virtue) of the fact that one is flipped before the other, and we know which one that is. That is, it is our knowledge of the history of the objects that allows us to tell them apart, even if they look identical. All objects you see around you follow Bolzmann statistics, because even if you can't tell them apart by looking at them, you can always tell them apart by discovering their history, which will be unique for each object.

Atoms are different. Not only are they exactly identical, but you cannot distinguish their history, even in principle, because quantum mechanics says atoms do not each have their own individual history. Hence atoms follow Bose-Einstein statitics.

Actually, another possibility exists for atoms. Some atoms are such that no two are allowed to be in the same situation. For these atoms there is only 1 way to put 2 atoms in 2 boxes, since each atom must be in a different box. These atoms are said to follow Fermi-Dirac statistics. *Why* some atoms follow Fermi-Dirac statistics needs to be addressed separately, so ask another question if you want to know.

So what's so special about following Bose-Einstein statitics? Well, nothing, really, unless you expect things to always follow Boltzmann statistics. Then you can observe stuff that surprises you.

For example, we see that if we throw 2 atoms into 2 boxes randomly we'll end up seeing both atoms together in one box more often (1 out of 3 times) if they follow Bose-Einstein statistics than if they follow Boltzmann statistics (1 out of 4 times). If we do the same experiment with a lot more atoms and a lot more boxes, this difference turns out to become much larger, as we could prove by writing out all the possible results, like we did for 2 atoms and 2 boxes above.

We don't have to think about real boxes, either. The boxes can be symbols for any distinguishable situation the atoms might be found in. We can conclude that if we have a lot of atoms in a lot of possible situations (``boxes''), and *if* we expect them to follow Boltzmann statistics, then we will be surprised by how often they end up in one single situation (box), all doing the same thing.

The ending-up-in-one-situation is called a ``Bose condensation'', and it makes the news because it surprises human beings, whose intuition is to always see Boltzmann statistics.

There are also a number of interesting things that happen when atoms do a Bose condensation, such as superfluidity and superconductivity.


Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory