Notions of geometry, topology, and dimensionality have directed the historical development of quantum-gas physics, as has a relentless search for longer-lived matter-wave coherence and lower absolute temperature. With a toolbox of forces for confinement, guiding, and excitation, physicists have used quantum gases to test fundamental ideas in quantum theory, statistical mechanics, and in recent years notions of strongly-correlated many-body physics from the condensed-matter world. Some of this work has been hampered by terrestrial gravity; levitation schemes of varying degree of sophistication are available, as are atomic-fountain and drop-tower microgravity facilities, but the long-term free-fall environment of low-Earth orbit remains a tantalizing location for quantum-gas experiments.
I will review a planned NASA microgravity program set to launch to the International Space Station in 2016. One set of experiments will explore a trapping geometry for quantum gases that is both theoretically compelling and difficult to attain terrestrially: that of a spherical or ellipsoidal shell. This trap could confine a Bose-Einstein condensate to the surface of an experimentally-controlled “bubble.” Other experiments will focus on atom interferometry and few-body physics. I will also review recent terrestrial work tailoring periodic geometries for BEC toward interesting solid-state analogues.