Everything you see around you is made up of elementary particles called quarks and leptons, which can combine to form bigger particles such as protons or atoms. But that doesn’t make them boring – these subatomic particles can also combine in exotic ways we’ve never spotted. Now CERN’s LHCb collaboration has announced the discovery of a clutch of new particles dubbed “pentaquarks”. The results can help unveil many mysteries of the theory of quarks, a key part of the standard model of particle physics.
In February of 2016, scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) made history by announcing the first-ever detection of gravitational waves (GWs). These ripples in the very fabric of the Universe, which are caused by black hole mergers or white dwarfs colliding, were first predicted by Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity roughly a century ago.
Why do we exist? This is arguably the most profound question there is and one that may seem completely outside the scope of particle physics. But our new experiment at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider has taken us a step closer to figuring it out.
The idea of one day traveling to another star system and seeing what is there has been the fevered dream of people long before the first rockets and astronauts were sent to space. But despite all the progress we have made since the beginning of the Space Age, interstellar travel remains just that – a fevered dream. While theoretical concepts have been proposed, the issues of cost, travel time and fuel remain highly problematic.
Quantum simulation gives a sneak peek into the possibilities of time reversal. An international team of scientists led by Argonne explored the concept of reversing time in a first-of-its-kind experiment, managing to return a computer briefly to the past. The results present new possibilities for quantum computer program testing and error correction.
Physicists aren’t often reprimanded for using risqué humour in their academic writings, but in 1991 that is exactly what happened to the cosmologist Andrei Linde at Stanford University. He had submitted a draft article entitled ‘Hard Art of the Universe Creation’ to the journal Nuclear Physics B. In it, he outlined the possibility of creating a universe in a laboratory: a whole new cosmos that might one day evolve its own stars, planets and intelligent life.
Imagine changing ice to water without adding heat. It sounds impossible, but physicists at Radboud University theoretically know how to realize this enigmatic transition, not with water molecules, but with electrons in metals. This brings the 'holy grail' of physics into view.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN is the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. During its ten years of operations it has led to remarkable discoveries, including the long sought-after Higgs boson. On January 15, an international team of physicists unveiled the concept design for a new particle accelerator that would dwarf the LHC.
The concept of time travel has always captured the imagination of physicists and laypersons alike. But is it really possible? Of course it is. We’re doing it right now, aren’t we? We are all traveling into the future one second at a time.
When you hear the term “radioactive” you likely think “bad news,” maybe along the lines of fallout from an atomic bomb. But radioactive materials are actually used in a wide range of beneficial applications. In medicine, they routinely help diagnose and treat disease. Irradiation helps keep a number of foods free from insects and invasive pests. Archaeologists use them to figure out how old an artifact might be. And the list goes on.
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is getting a big boost to its performance. Unfortunately, for fans of ground-breaking physics, the whole thing has to be shut down for two years while the work is done. But once it’s back up and running, its enhanced capabilities will make it even more powerful.
Physicists have developed an atomic clock so accurate that it would be off by less than a single second in 14 billion years. That kind of accuracy and precision makes it more than just a timepiece. It’s a powerful scientific instrument that could measure gravitational waves, take the measure of the Earth’s gravitational shape, and maybe even detect dark matter. How did they do it?
Fusion power has been the fevered dream of scientists, environmentalists and futurists for almost a century. For the past few decades, scientists have been attempting to find a way to create sustainable fusion reactions that would provide human beings with clean, abundant energy, which would finally break our dependence on fossil fuels and other unclean methods.
How much is a kilogram? 1,000 grams. 2.20462 pounds. Or 0.0685 slugs based on the old Imperial gravitational system. But where does this amount actually come from and how can everyone be sure they are using the same measurement?
One might think that the optical tweezer – a focused laser beam that can trap small particles – is old hat by now. After all, the tweezer was invented by Arthur Ashkin in 1970. And he received the Nobel Prize for it this year - presumably after its main implications had been realized during the last half-century.
There was a huge amount of excitement when the Higgs boson was first spotted back in 2012 – a discovery that bagged the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2013. The particle completed the so-called standard model, our current best theory of understanding nature at the level of particles.
Inexpensive clean energy sounds like a pipe dream. Scientists have long thought that nuclear fusion, the type of reaction that powers stars like the Sun, could be one way to make it happen, but the reaction has been too difficult to maintain. Now, we’re closer than ever before to making it happen — physicists from the University of Tokyo (UTokyo) say they’ve produced the strongest-ever controllable magnetic field.
Watching helium gas lift balloons into the air is a lot of fun – or perhaps a tragedy if that balloon belonged to a small child who let it go. And, who hasn’t sipped the helium gas from a balloon and then quacked like Donald Duck? Although, that’s not the smartest thing to do since helium can displace the air in our lungs, or cause other problems with respiration.
Despite decades of ongoing research, scientists are trying to understand how the four fundamental forces of the Universe fit together. Whereas quantum mechanics can explain how three of these forces things work together on the smallest of scales (electromagnetism, weak and strong nuclear forces), General Relativity explains how things behaves on the largest of scales (i.e. gravity). In this respect, gravity remains the holdout.
When I was at elementary school, my teacher told me that matter exists in three possible states: solid, liquid and gas. She neglected to mention plasma, a special kind of electrified gas that’s a state unto itself. We rarely encounter natural plasma, unless we’re lucky enough to see the Northern lights, or if we look at the Sun through a special filter, or if we poke our head out the window during a lightning storm, as I liked to do when I was a kid. Yet plasma, for all its scarcity in our daily lives, makes up more than 99 per cent of the observable matter in the Universe (that is, if we discount dark matter).
From tunnelling through impenetrable barriers to being in two places at the same time, the quantum world of atoms and particles is famously bizarre. Yet the strange properties of quantum mechanics are not mathematical quirks – they are real effects that have been seen in laboratories over and over.