We study theoretically and experimentally the properties of spin-1 Bose-Einstein condensates with antiferromagnetic interactions realized in the ultra-cold sodium gases confined in optical dipole traps.
We present in detail how to realize, diagnose and control the spinor Bose-Einstein condensates in our experiment. In order to describe the condensate, a mean-field theory is first adopted. This theory predicts a phase transition when changing the magnetic field $B$. The predictions of the mean-field theory agree very well with most of our experimental results, including the values of the critical magnetic field $B_c$, asymptotic values of $n_0$ (relative atom number in $m_F=0$ state) at large $B$ and the phase diagram of $n_0$. However, for small magnetization and small magnetic field, we find abnormally large fluctuations (super-Poissonian) of $n_0$. In order to describe these large fluctuations, we develop a full quantum statistical description for the spinor condensate at non-zero temperature. To describe uncondensed thermal atoms (also present in the same trap), we use the ``semi-ideal" Hartree-Fock approximation to deal with the interactions between the condensate atoms and the thermal ones. The experimental results lead us to introduce two kinds of temperatures, the ``spin temperature" $T_s$ and the ``kinetic temperature" $T_k$ with $T_s\ll T_k$, characterizing respectively the fluctuaitons of the condensate spin and the thermal gas. We conclude that the system is reaching a quasi-equilibrium states, where different degrees of freedom reach equilibrium by separate mechanisms but where the mutual thermalization does not occur over the lifetime of the cloud.