Abstract : In 2001 metastable Helium (He*) attained Bose-Einstein condensation (BEC). The metastable state has a lifetime of 9000 sec and an internal energy of 20 eV. This energy can be used to detect individual atoms using a micro-channel plate. The extremely good time response and high gain of this detector makes it possible to carry out a density correlation measurement (HBT) with massive particles similar to the pioneering experiment of R. Hanbury Brown and R. Twiss in optics. In addition, inelastic collisions between He* atoms produce a small but detectable flux of ions proportional to the cloud's density. This allows one to follow the evolution of the cloud's density toward BEC, passing through the phase transition, in real time and in a non invasive way.
In this dissertation we report on three different experiments: i) the determination of the two- and three-body ionizing rate constants of He*; ii) the determination of a, the He* scattering length; iii) the measure of the intensity correlation function of a falling He* cloud. It has been shown lately that our measure of a was affected by a large systematic error and we propose a possible explanation. We describe methods to determine the temperature and fugacity of a thermal cloud. Finally a major portion of the thesis is devoted to the derivation of an analytical expression for the intensity correlation function of the atomic flux. This theoretical analysis has derived typical values for the transverse and longitudinal atomic coherence length that confirmed the possibility of performing a HBT experiment with our apparatus.