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With an optical dipole trap it is possible to confine Bose–Einstein condensates in different hyperfine states and in arbitrary magnetic bias fields, thus overcoming two major limitations of magnetic traps. In this review paper we characterize the properties of such a dipole trap and we summarize experiments which made use of the new experimental possibilities, including the reversible formation of a Bose–Einstein condensate, the observation of Feshbach resonances in sodium and the ground state properties of spinor Bose-Einstein condensates. Finally, we present some new results on the shape of magnetically trapped and ballistically expanding condensates.

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