Image: Brookhaven National Laboratory
The summary breaks down mind-boggling scientific research, future technologies, new discoveries, and major breakthroughs.
Scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have uncovered an entirely new type of quantum entanglement, a phenomenon that causes particles to strangely link up, even across vast cosmic distances, according to a new study. The discovery allowed them to get an unprecedented look at the strange world inside atoms, the building blocks of matter.
The mind-blowing research solves an ancient mystery about the nuclei of atoms, which contain particles called protons and neutrons, and could help shed light on topics ranging from quantum computing to astrophysics.
The exciting discoveries occurred at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC), a specialized facility in Brookhaven, New York that can accelerate charged atoms, known as ions, to nearly the speed of light. When these ions collide – or even pass close to each other – their interactions reveal the inner workings of the atoms, which are governed by the triple laws of quantum mechanics.
All kinds of strange things happen in this small world, but quantum entanglement in particular is very strange Named by Albert Einstein “Scary action at a distance.” This phenomenon occurs when particles become entangled with each other, causing their properties (such as spin or momentum) to sync, even if they are billions of light-years apart. Quantum entanglement has been demonstrated countless times in laboratories, but entangled particles have always belonged to the same group and possessed the same charge, as photons with no charge, or electrons with a negative charge.
Now, for the first time ever, scientists at Brookhaven have detected interference patterns created by entanglement of two particles with different charges, a breakthrough that opens a whole new window into the mysterious inner parts of the atoms that make up the visible matter in the universe, according to A study published on Wednesday in a Science advances.
“There has been no measurement in the past of interference between distinct particles,” Daniel Brandenburg, an OSU professor of physics who co-authored the new study, said on a Motherboard call. “This is the discovery. The application is that we’re going to use it to do some nuclear physics.”
“I wasn’t even, in a sense, trying to find something very fundamental in quantum mechanics,” he continued. “When we realized something very interesting was going on here, it was a really big surprise to me.”
Brandenburg and his colleagues achieved this feat with the help of a sensitive detector called the Solenoidal Tracker at RHIC, or STAR, which captured interactions between gold ions that were boosted to the brink of light speed. Clouds of photons, which are light-carrying particles, surround the ions and interact with another type of particle, called gluons, which hold atomic nuclei together.
These encounters between photons and gluons set off a chain of events that eventually created two new particles, called pions, that have opposite charges – one positive and one negative. When these pions caught sight of the STAR detector, the precision instrument measured some of their key properties, such as velocity and angle of impact, which were then used to probe the size, shape, and arrangement of gluons within an atom’s nucleus with a precision not achieved before.
“It’s like a microscope in the sense that you use a photon to look at something,” Brandenburg explained. “In this case, we’re using really, really high-energy photons, whose wavelength is short enough that we can actually look inside the atom.”
Scientists have imaged atomic nuclei at lower energies before, but attempts to probe these structures at higher energies have always yielded a puzzling result. The nuclei in these experiments appear larger than they should be, according to the models, a result that has puzzled scientists for decades.
Now, the STAR collaboration has solved this mystery by identifying a blurring effect associated with the photons in the experiment. Essentially, previous studies captured one-dimensional profiles of nuclei that did not take into account important patterns in photons, such as the direction of polarization. The new study incorporated this polarization information, allowing Brandenburg and colleagues to probe the nuclei from two angles, parallel and perpendicular to the photon motion, resulting in a two-dimensional view that matches theoretical predictions.
Furthermore, the team is able to determine the approximate positions of key particles in the nucleus, such as protons and neutrons, as well as the distribution of gluons. It also offers a new way to unravel persistent mysteries about the behavior of atoms at high energies.
“As you go deeper into the nucleus, to the parts of the nucleus that have less and less energy, it’s very important to how the nucleus holds together, but we actually don’t know much about that part of the nucleus,” Brandenburg said. “So as you go to higher and higher energies, You really don’t know what it looks like.”
“That’s why more high-resolution measurements will be poised to really make a statement about the energy dependence and what the core does at these different scales,” he added.
To that point, Brandenburg hopes to replicate the technique, and copy it, at RHIC and other facilities like the Large Hadron Collider, in order to tease out the long-hidden details inside atomic nuclei.
Gazing at atoms at high energies can help scientists solve some of science’s most difficult problems, including the great mystery of how the quantum realm coexists with our reality, which is governed by the most common rules of classical physics. It also has practical applications, particularly for quantum computing, a technology that aims to revolutionize computational processes using the exotic rules of the quantum world.
“By looking at different nuclei and by looking at this process at a higher resolution, we can start to learn more and more details,” Brandenburg concluded. “What we’ve done here is a proof of concept, but there are a lot of opportunities.”