modern physics (9)

Deux Ex Machina...


Quasiparticles in motion: illustration of ghost polaritons in a calcite crystal being “launched” to record distances by a gold microdisk. (Courtesy: HUST)

Topics: Condensed Matter Physics, Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics

The existence of ghost hyperbolic surface polaritons has been demonstrated by an international collaboration including researchers in China and the US. Based at Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST), National University of Singapore (NUS), National Center for Nanoscience and Technology (NCNST), and the City University of New York (CUNY), the team showed that the polariton – a hybrid light-matter quasiparticle – has a record-breaking propagation distance of three times its photon wavelength. This ghost polariton is an exciting discovery that has applications in sub-wavelength, low-loss imaging, sensing, and information transfer. The full study is described in Nature.

Previously, hyperbolic polaritons, which arise from the strong coupling of electromagnetic radiation to lattice vibrations (phonons) in anisotropic crystals, had only been observed in two forms: bulk polaritons and surface polaritons. Bulk, volume-confined, hyperbolic polaritons (v-HPs) have a real out-of-plane wavevector and hence can propagate within the material supporting them. Surface-confined hyperbolic polaritons (s-HPs), however, have an entirely imaginary out-of-plane wavevector, and so decay exponentially away from the crystal surface, a property called evanescence. The hyperbolic dispersion of these polaritons is the result of the crystal’s dielectric anisotropy, which results in hyperbolic isofrequency contours in k-space (momentum space) and concave wavefronts in real space.

Most studies on v-HPs and s-HPs have been performed in thin layers of van der Waals crystals. These crystals comprise stacks of covalently bound 2D layers that are held together by weak van der Waals forces. However, in such crystal layers, there is no control over the optical axis. This is the direction in which propagating light experiences no birefringence and it is typically aligned with the layers.

Ghost surface polaritons seen for the first time, Kirsty McGhee, Physics World

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Double Slit...


Complementarity A new twist on the double-slit experiment. (Courtesy: Shutterstock/Andrey VP)

Topics: Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Theoretical Physics

One of the most counterintuitive concepts in physics – the idea that quantum objects are complementary, behaving like waves in some situations and like particles in others – just got a new and more quantitative foundation. In a twist on the classic double-slit experiment, scientists at Korea’s Institute for Basic Sciences (IBS) used precisely controlled photon sources to measure a photon’s degree of wave-ness and particle-ness. Their results, published in Science Advances, show that the properties of the photon’s source influence its wave and particle character – a discovery that complicates and challenges the common understanding of complementarity.

The double-slit experiment is the archetypal example of complementarity at work. When a single photon encounters a barrier with two thin openings, it produces an interference pattern on a screen placed behind the openings – but only if the photon’s path is not observed. This interference pattern identifies the photon as a wave since a particle would create only one point of light on the screen. However, if detectors are placed at the openings to determine which slit the photon went through, the interference pattern disappears, and the photon behaves like a particle. The principle of complementarity states that both experimental outcomes are needed to fully understand the photon’s quantum nature.

Wave-particle duality quantified for the first time, Karmela Padavic-Callaghan, Physics World

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Dielectric Laser Accelerators...


Figure 1. The size contrast between conventional accelerator facilities and chip-based accelerators is dramatic. (a) The Next Linear Collider Test Accelerator facility at SLAC was used for early laser-acceleration experiments in 2012–15. (Image courtesy of the Archives and History Office/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.) (b) The first dielectric laser accelerator chips demonstrated at SLAC were made of fused silica and were each the size of a grain of rice. (Image courtesy of Christopher Smith/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.)

Topics: Applied Physics, Modern Physics, Particle Physics

Physics Today 74, 8, 42 (2021);

Particle accelerators are among the most important scientific tools of the modern age. Major accelerator facilities, such as the 27-km-circumference Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, where the Higgs boson was recently discovered, allow scientists to uncover fundamental properties of matter and energy. But the particle energies needed to explore new regimes of physics have increased to the TeV scale and beyond, and accelerator facilities based on conventional technologies are becoming prohibitively large and costly. Even lower-energy, smaller-scale accelerators used in medicine and industry are often cumbersome devices; they can weigh several tons and cost millions of dollars.

Efforts are consequently underway to develop more compact, less expensive accelerator technologies. One approach, a dielectric laser accelerator (DLA), uses an ultrafast IR laser to deliver energy to electrons inside a microchip-scale device. Efficient, ultrafast solid-state lasers and semiconductor fabrication methods developed over the past two decades have enabled a new breed of photonic devices that can sustain accelerating fields one to two orders of magnitude larger than conventional microwave-cavity accelerators.

The approach has the potential to dramatically shrink particle accelerators, thereby enabling ultrafast tabletop electron diffraction and microscopy experiments and tunable x-ray sources. An international effort is now underway to develop a laser-driven accelerator integrated on a silicon photonics platform: an “accelerator on a chip.”

Microchip accelerators, Joel England, Peter Hommelhoff, Robert L. Byer, Physics Today

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Nearing Ignition...


An artist’s rendering shows how the National Ignition Facility’s 192 beams enter an eraser-size cylinder of gold and heat it from the inside to produce x-rays, which then implode the fuel capsule at its center to create fusion.


Topics: Energy, Environment, Modern Physics, Nuclear Fusion, Nuclear Power

More than a decade ago, the world’s most energetic laser started to unleash its blasts on tiny capsules of hydrogen isotopes, with managers promising it would soon demonstrate a route to limitless fusion energy. Now, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) has taken a major leap toward that goal. Last week, a single laser shot sparked a fusion explosion from a peppercorn-size fuel capsule that produced eight times more energy than the facility had ever achieved: 1.35 megajoules (MJ)—roughly the kinetic energy of a car traveling at 160 kilometers per hour. That was also 70% of the energy of the laser pulse that triggered it, making it tantalizingly close to “ignition”: a fusion shot producing an excess of energy.

 “After many years at 3% of ignition, this is super exciting,” says Mark Herrmann, head of the fusion program at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which operates NIF.

NIF’s latest shot “proves that a small amount of energy, imploding a small amount of mass, can get fusion. It’s a wonderful result for the field,” says physicist Michael Campbell, director of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) at the University of Rochester.

“It’s a remarkable achievement,” adds plasma physicist Steven Rose, co-director of the Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies at Imperial College London. “It’s made me feel very cheerful. … It feels like a breakthrough.”

And it is none too soon, as years of slow progress have raised questions about whether laser-powered fusion has a practical future. Now, according to LLE Chief Scientist Riccardo Betti, researchers need to ask: “What is the maximum fusion yield you can get out of NIF? That’s the real question.”

Fusion, which powers stars, forces small atomic nuclei to meld together into larger ones, releasing large amounts of energy. Extremely hard to achieve on Earth because of the heat and pressure required to join nuclei, fusion continues to attract scientific and commercial interest because it promises copious energy, with little environmental impact.

With explosive new result, laser-powered fusion effort nears ‘ignition’, Daniel Clery, Science Magazine

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Muon g-2...


Feynman QED Diagram: Fermilab

Topics: Modern Physics, Particle Physics, Quantum Mechanics

Solving a mystery

More than 200 scientists from around the world are collaborating with Fermilab on the Muon g-2 physics experiment which probes fundamental properties of matter and space. Muon g-2 (pronounced gee minus two) allows researchers to peer into the subatomic world to search for undiscovered particles that may be hiding in the vacuum.

Residing at Fermilab's Muon Campus, the experiment uses the Fermilab accelerator complex to produce an intense beam of muons traveling at nearly the speed of light. Scientists will use the beam to precisely determine the value of a property known as the g-2 of the muon.

The muon, like its lighter sibling the electron, acts like a spinning magnet. The parameter known as "g" indicates how strong the magnet is and the rate of its gyration. The value of the muon's g is slightly larger than 2. This difference from 2 is caused by the presence of virtual particles that appear from the quantum vacuum and then quickly disappear into it again.

In measuring g-2 with high precision and comparing its value to the theoretical prediction, physicists aim to discover whether the experiment agrees with the theory. Any deviation would point to as yet undiscovered subatomic particles that exist in nature.

An experiment that concluded in 2001 at Brookhaven National Laboratory found a tantalizing 3.7 sigma (standard deviation) discrepancy between the theoretical calculation and the measurement of the muon g-2. With a four-fold increase in the measurement's precision, Muon g-2 will be more sensitive to virtual or hidden particles and forces than any previous experiment of its kind and can bring this discrepancy to the 5 sigma discovery level.

The centerpiece of the Muon g-2 experiment at Fermilab is a large, 50-foot-diameter superconducting muon storage ring. This one-of-a-kind ring, made of steel, aluminum, and superconducting wire, was built for the previous g-2 experiment at Brookhaven. The ring was moved from Brookhaven to Fermilab in 2013. Making use of Fermilab's intense particle beams, scientists will be able to significantly increase the science output of this unique instrument. The experiment started taking data in 2018.

U.S. Department of Energy - Fermilab: Muon g - 2


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Clocking Dark Matter...


Clocking dark matter: optical clocks join the hunt for dark matter. (Courtesy: N Hanacek/NIST)

Topics: Dark Matter, Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics

An optical clock has been used to set new constraints on a proposed theory of dark matter. Researchers including Jun Ye at JILA at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and Andrei Derevianko at the University of Nevada, Reno, explored how the coupling between regular matter and “ultralight” dark matter particles could be detected using the clock in conjunction with an ultra-stable optical cavity. With future upgrades to the performance of optical clocks, their approach could become an important tool in the search for dark matter.

Although it appears to account for about 85% of the matter in the universe, physicists know very little about dark matter. Most theoretical and experimental work so far has been focussed on hypothetical dark-matter particles, including WIMPS and axions, which have relatively large masses.  Alternatively, some physicists have proposed the existence of “ultralight” dark matter particles with extremely small masses that span many orders of magnitude (10−16–10−21 eV/c2).

According to the laws of quantum mechanics, the very smallest of these particles would have huge wavelengths, comparable to the sizes of entire dwarf galaxies – meaning they would behave like classical fields on scales we can easily measure.

Optical clock sets new constraints on dark matter, Sam Jarman, Physics World

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Diamond Nanoneedles...


Credit: Z. Shi et al., Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 117, 24634 (2020)

Topics: Materials Science, Modern Physics, Nanotechnology, Semiconductor Technology

If you ever manage to deform a diamond, you’re likely to break it. That’s because the hardest natural material on Earth is also inelastic and brittle. Two years ago, Ming Dao (MIT), Subra Suresh (Nanyang Technological University in Singapore), and their collaborators demonstrated that when bulk diamonds are etched into fine, 300-nm-wide needles, they become nearly defect-free. The transformation allows diamonds to elastically bend under the pressure of an indenter tip, as shown in the figure, and withstand extremely large tensile stresses without breaking.

The achievement prompted the researchers to investigate whether the simple process of bending could controllably and reversibly alter the electronic structure of nanocrystal diamond. Teaming up with Ju Li and graduate student Zhe Shi (both at MIT), Dao and Suresh have now followed their earlier study with numerical simulations of the reversible deformation. The team used advanced deep-learning algorithms that reveal the bandgap distributions in nanosized diamond across a range of loading conditions and crystal geometries. The new work confirms that the elastic strain can alter the material’s carbon-bonding configuration enough to close its bandgap from a normally 5.6 eV width as an electrical insulator to 0 eV as a conducting metal. That metallization occurred on the compression side of a bent diamond nanoneedle.

Diamond nanoneedles turn metallic, R. Mark Wilson, Physics Today

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Right-Handed Photons...


Topics: Modern Physics, Particle Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Quarks

Note: A primer on quarks at Hyperphysics</a>

On 17 January 1957, a few months after Chien-Shiung Wu’s discovery of parity violation, Wolfgang Pauli wrote to Victor Weisskopf: “Ich glaube aber nicht, daß der Herrgott ein schwacher Linkshänder ist” (I cannot believe that God is a weak left-hander). But maximal parity violation is now well established within the Standard Model (SM). The weak interaction only couples to left-handed particles, as dramatically seen in the continuing absence of experimental evidence for right-handed neutrinos. In the same way, the polarisation of photons originating from transitions that involve weak interaction is expected to be completely left-handed.

The LHCb collaboration recently tested the handedness of photons emitted in rare flavor-changing transitions from a b-quark to an s-quark. These are mediated by the bosons of the weak interaction according to the SM – but what if new virtual particles contribute too? Their presence could be clearly signaled by a right-handed contribution to the photon polarization.

In pursuit of right-handed photons, A report from the LHCb experiment, CERN Courier

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Schrödinger’s Clock...


Credit: Getty Images

Topics: Modern Physics, Quantum Mechanics, Theoretical Physics

Albert Einstein’s twin paradox is one of the most famous thought experiments in physics. It postulates that if you send one of two twins on a return trip to a star at near light speed, they will be younger than their identical sibling when they return home. The age difference is a consequence of something called time dilation, which is described by Einstein’s special theory of relativity: the faster you travel, the slower time appears to pass.

But what if we introduce quantum theory into the problem? Physicists Alexander Smith of Saint Anselm College and Dartmouth College and Mehdi Ahmadi of Santa Clara University tackle this idea in a study published today in the journal Nature Communications. The scientists imagine measuring a quantum atomic clock experiencing two different times while it is placed in superposition—a quirk of quantum mechanics in which something appears to exist in two places at once. “We know from Einstein’s special theory of relativity that when a clock moves relative to another clock, the time shown on it slows down,” Smith says. “But quantum mechanics allows you to start thinking about what happens if this clock were to move in a superposition of two different speeds.”

Superposition is a strange aspect of quantum physics where an object can initially be in multiple locations simultaneously, yet when it is observed, only one of those states becomes true. Particles can be placed in superposition in certain experiments, such as those using a beam splitter to divide photons of light, to show the phenomenon in action. Both of the particles in superposition appear to share information until they are observed, making the phenomenon useful for applications such as encryption and quantum communications.

Quantum Time Twist Offers a Way to Create Schrödinger’s Clock, Jonathan O'Callaghan, Scientific American

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