CERN’s Large Hadron Collider accelerates atoms for first time ever

A new CERN experiment accelerates atoms for the first time ever in an attempt to test the new Gamma Factory concept.

Although CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) typically experiments using protons, scientists just used the device to accelerate atoms for the first time ever to test the new Gamma Factory CERN concept.

“We’re investigating new ideas of how we could broaden the present CERN research programme and infrastructure,” said Michaela Schaumann, an LHC Engineer in Charge. “Finding out what’s possible is the first step.”

Physicists experiment with the CERN machine for a few days a year, breaking away from the standard proton-proton collisions and delving into the unknown. To date, they accelerated other stripped lead ions and xenon nuclei.

“This special LHC run was really the last step in a series of tests,” explained physicist Witold Krasny, who put together a study group of about 50 scientists that were interested in looking at new methods of high-energy gamma ray production.

“It’s really easy to accidentally strip off the electron,” Schaumann said. “When that happens, the nucleus crashes into the wall of the beam pipe because its charge is no longer synchronised with the LHC’s magnetic field.”

In addition to being a fun experiment, the tests could help determine if the LHC could function as a future gamma-ray factory. The study of gamma rays could lead to the production of enough energy to create “matter particles” like muons, quarks, and electrons.

While these unique sci-fi innovations are not anywhere close to being ready, the CERN scientists are hoping that their experiments will take them closer to uncovering new discoveries in the realm of physics.

Bone analysis gives insight into Hiroshima bombing

Analysis of a human jawbone could one day help researchers better understand how to handle the fall out from a terrorist attack.

Brazilian scientists at the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão have conducted a new analysis on the jawbone of a Hiroshima bombing victim to determine how radiation affects the human body.

In the research, the team used a method known as electron spin resonance spectroscopy to perform a dose calculation on the remains. They separated two signals trapped within the bone — one associated with Hiroshima radiation and the “background noise” created by the explosion. That then revealed the victim came into contact with roughly 9.46 grays of radiation.

“About half that dose, or 5 Gy, is fatal if the entire body is exposed to it,” explained study co-author Oswaldo Baffa, a researcher at the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão, according to Tech Times.

The research is unique because it used the technique on human tissue. Scientists tried similar analyses in the past, but only on non-human tissue found at bomb sites like fragments of bricks and house tiles. This study goes beyond such studies and helps provide new information into how radiation affects the body.

Not only are the findings important from an intellectual standpoint, but the method used in the research could also have potential applications in future modern-day terrorist attacks.

For example, if a suspect in New York plants a bomb with a small amount of radioactive material, authorities can use the technique to quickly figure out who has been exposed to the fallout. That then enables them to provide those people with immediate medical attention.

“There were serious doubts about the feasibility of using this methodology to determine the radiation dose deposited in these samples, because of the processes involved in the episode,” said lead author Angela Kinoshita, a professor at the University of São Paulo’s Ribeirão, according to Gizmodo. “The results confirm its feasibility and open up various possibilities for future research that may clarify details of the nuclear attack.”

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Another study proves Einstein right through examination of high-energy neutrinos

Another study supports Einstein’s theory of special relativity by examining neutrinos.

Yet another study has proved Einstein’s theory of special relativity by supporting Lorentz symmetry, which states that any scientist should see identical laws of physics in any direction if the object is traveling at a constant speed.

The team of MIT researchers examined two years of data from the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, which is a massive neutrino detector located underneath Antarctice ice. Their analysis revealed no abnormalities in normal neutrino oscillation that would indicate a Lorentz-violating field.

“People love tests of Einstein’s theory,” said Janet Conrad, a professor of physics at MIT and a lead author on the paper. “I can’t tell if people are cheering for him to be right or wrong, but he wins in this one, and that’s kind of great. To be able to come up with as versatile a theory as he has done is an incredible thing.”

“We were able to set limits on this hypothetical field that are much, much better than any that have been produced before,” Conrad added. “This was an attempt to go out and look at new territory we hadn’t looked at before and see if there are any problems in that space, and there aren’t. But that doesn’t stop us from looking further.”

The results effectively rule out the possibility that neutrinos within the high energy range examined in the study violate Lorentz symmetry and support the possibility that neutrinos behave just as Einstein’s theory predicts.

“Every paper that comes out of particle physics assumes that Einstein is right, and all the rest of our work builds on that,” Conrad said. “And to a very good approximation, he’s correct. It is a fundamental fabric of our theory. So trying to understand whether there are any deviations to it is a really important thing to do.”

The findings were published in Nature Physics.

Scientists manipulate single atoms with electron beam

Researchers can now manipulate single atoms using an electron beam, which could pave the way for atomic memory in cellphones in computers.

Atoms make up the smallest forms of matter, which are invisible without the use of powerful instruments like electron microscopes. And the electrons used to create pictures of atomic structures can also move atoms within materials, a technique called single-atom manipulation.

Now, using an advanced scanning transmission electron microscope (STEM), a team of University of Vienna researchers can almost perfectly control single silicon impurity atoms within a graphene lattice, which is a two-dimensional carbon sheet.

The team used the advanced electron microscope Nion UltraSTEM100 to move single silicon atoms at a rate comparable to those currently observed in modern state-of-the-art atomically precise techniques.

“The control we are able to achieve by essentially directing the electron beam by hand is already remarkable, but we have further taken the first steps towards automation by detecting the jumps in real time,” said Toma Susi, senior author on the study.

Not only that, the new data improves upon theoretical models of the process through the integration of simulations created by collaborating researchers in Norway and Belgium.

Overall, the team recorded almost 300 controlled jumps, and moved the silicon impurity back and forth between neighboring lattice sites that were one tenth-billionth of a meter apart. In the future, this technique could be used to store information at record-breaking densities.

“Your computer or cellphone will not have atomic memories anytime soon, but graphene impurity atoms do seem to have potential as bits near the limits of what is physically possible,” Susi concluded.

The findings were published in Nano Letters.

Scientists capture the universe’s cosmic hum

A new study might reveal the cosmic hum that fuelled the universe’s early expansion.

A team of researchers uncovered behavior that appears to resemble the universe in microcosm through the rapid expansion of a doughnut-shaped cloud of atoms, according to Phys.org.

“From the atomic physics perspective, the experiment is beautifully described by existing theory,” says Stephen Eckel, an atomic physicist and the lead author of the new paper. “But even more striking is how that theory connects with cosmology.”

Eckel and his team rapidly expanded the size of a cloud of atoms shaped like a doughnut, taking snapshots throughout the process. The rapid growth left the cloud in a state of humming, which might resemble a related hum that took place on cosmic scales during the Earth’s early expansion.

The work represents a collaboration between experts in atomic physics and gravity and highlights the versatility of the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), which is an ultracold cloud of atoms that is an ideal platform for testing ideas in various facets of physics.

“Maybe this will one day inform future models of cosmology,” Eckel said. “Or vice versa. Maybe there will be a model of cosmology that’s difficult to solve but that you could simulate using a cold atomic gas.”

Ted Jacobson, a coauthor on the new paper, believes that his connection with atomic physicists led to benefits outside of the immediate results.

“What I learned from them, and from thinking so much about an experiment like that, are new ways to think about the cosmology problem,” he said. “And they learned to think about aspects of the BEC that they would never have thought about before. Whether those are useful or important remains to be seen, but it was certainly stimulating.”

“Ted got me to think about the processes in BECs differently and any time you approach a problem and you can see it from a different perspective, it gives you a better chance of actually solving that problem,” added Eckel.

The findings were published in Physical Reviews X.

New atomic clock is the most precise one ever created

Researcher have developed a new atomic clock that could help detect hard-to-find phenomena, such as dark matter and gravitational waves.

Scientists from the National Institute of Standards and Technology have built the world’s most precise atomic clock in order to shed light on both time and the universe.

The researchers built the new machine by vibrating atoms across three dimensions and then using laser light to trap them inside a bookcase-like modular where they count down to the tiniest measurable units of time. Though the clock has no strong applications yet, it could one day help researchers conduct advanced experiments in the field of quantum mechanics.

“Developing a clock like this represents the most sensitive and inquisitive instruments mankind has built,” study co-author Jun Ye, a researcher from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told Gizmodo. “We want to use it to describe the connection between quantum mechanics, the mathematics describing the smallest pieces of the universe, and general relativity.”

Atomic clocks are merely atoms that vibrate in a special way when subjected to light. Though scientists first used microwaves to run such machines, they now use visible light because it is both more accurate and more precise.

However, there are some issues with the technology as well. For example, the more atoms they use, the higher the chance inter-atomic interactions will undo any accuracy benefits. The signal from the vibrating atoms can get fuzzy as well.

To overcome such problems, researchers in a new study used a special gas at hyper-cold temperatures to amplify one of the specific properties shared by atoms in the gas. This then reduced the interactions between the molecules and helped the new clock become more precise than any other.

Though the new technology is not going to be used in everyday life anytime soon, it could have large applications for future research. A wristwatch loses roughly 1 second a year. That may not seem like a huge deal, but it can make a big difference in the world of quantum mechanics.

In addition, extremely precise clocks can be used to look at some of the universe’s biggest mysteries. For instance, they could be used to detect both dark matter and gravitational waves.

“This new strontium clock using a quantum gas is an early and astounding success in the practical application of the ‘new quantum revolution,’ sometimes called ‘quantum 2.0’,” said Thomas O’Brian, a scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology who was not involved in the research, according to Phys.org. “This approach holds enormous promise for NIST and JILA to harness quantum correlations for a broad range of measurements and new technologies, far beyond timing.”

The technology is a big step forward for quantum mechanics, but there is still a lot work to do. While the clocks are precise, that does not mean they are accurate. Further research is needed to see how the ticking compares to the way the universe keeps time.

The new study is published in the journal Science.