Physicists Get An Atom To Act Like It’s In Another Universe


Quantum physicists in China and Spain have uprooted some of the central assumptions about how atoms behave on a quantum level.

The team, led by Professor Enrique Solano, were able to provoke atoms to act in ways that were against their own fundamental laws, the same way we think of time travel or hovering in the air as against our own physical laws. Solano aptly compares it to science fiction, or actors in a play.

"It is just like what happens in the theatre or in science fiction films in which the actors appear to display absurd behaviors that go against natural laws; in this case, the atoms are obliged to simulate absurd actions as if an actor in the theatre or in science fiction were involved," said Solano.

In order to get the atom to behave uncharacteristically, they had to "trap" it, kind of like how they got people to act uncharacteristically in Jonestown. But instead of a compound in Guyana, the atom was trapped by a laser force field. The trapped atom would display behaviors that were "incompatible with the fundamental laws of quantum physics," according to a press release from the University of the Basque Country, in Spain. Then the professors in the research group Quantum Technologies for Information Science casually hit you with this whammy:

"More specifically, we are talking about operations prohibited in microscopic physical systems, such as ... time reversal, that reverses the direction of the time arrow."

Oh, OK. Time reversal. Got it, no big deal.

The way the atoms behaved is impossible in this universe as we know it, though theoretically possible in another universe. Yet, the researchers were able to see this other-worldly (other-universal?) activity before their very eyes.

The findings were published in the journal Nature, in a study nonchalantly titled, "Time reversal and charge conjugation in an embedding quantum simulator."

Photo: Idaho National Laboratory | Flickr

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