Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Atoms looser than expected

17.08.2006
Single-electron merry-go-round measures universal atomic force

All the atoms in the universe just got looser, at least in the eyes of humans. No, the laws of physics didn't change overnight, but our knowledge of how strong atoms are held together did have to be readjusted a bit in light of a new experiment conducted at Harvard University.

By studying how a single electron behaves inside an electronic bottle, Gerald Gabrielse and his colleagues at Harvard were able to calculate a new value for a number six times more precise than the previous measurements called the fine structure constant, which specifies the strength of the electromagnetic force, which holds electrons inside atoms, governs the nature of light and provides all electric and magnetic effects we know, from a flash of lightning to a magnet on a refrigerator. Knowledge of these fundamentals helps scientists and engineers design new kinds of electronic devices–and obtain more profound details on the workings of the universe.

Gabrielse sums up the experiment this way: "Little did we know that the binding energies of all the atoms in the universe were smaller by a millionth of a percent--a lot of energy given the huge number of atoms in the universe."

Electrons are the outermost part of every atom. When detached from their home atoms, electrons constitute the electricity that flows through all powered machines.

By studying an individual electron in isolation from any other particle, scientists can eliminate complications of measuring a single object too small to see with even the most powerful microscopes. The Harvard scientists achieved extraordinary conditions of isolation for their individual electron. First of all, the inside of their trap apparatus is pumped free of almost all other particles, establishing a vacuum comparable to that in interplanetary space. And it's ultra-frigid inside: the apparatus is chilled to millionths of a degree above absolute zero, a temperature far colder than the surface of Pluto.

The lone electron and its surrounding cage constitute a sort of gigantic atom. Combined electric and magnetic forces in the trap keep the electron in its circular orbit. In addition to this circular motion, the electron wobbles up and down in the vertical direction, the direction of the magnetic field. It's like a giant merry-go-round, with an electromagnetic trap as the carousel and the electron as the lone horse.

The circuitry used to activate the electrodes keeping the electron pretty much centered in the trap is so sensitive that the system knows when the electron is bobbing upwards and approaching one of the electrodes. A feedback effect using the combined electric and magnetic forces, supplied by electrodes and coils, restricts the motion of the electron. This allows the electron's energy to be measured with great precision.

By measuring the electron's properties so meticulously, physicists could improve their calculation of the fine structure constant, the number that determines the strength of the electromagnetic forces that hold all atoms together. The new value for the constant is slightly smaller than the best previous value (revealing atoms to be just a tiny bit looser) and six times more accurate.

The Harvard work with the special electron trap has taken more than twenty years and has produced more than a half dozen PhD theses, all centering on a single electron.

James Riordon | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.aps.org

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Astronomers find unexpected, dust-obscured star formation in distant galaxy
24.03.2017 | University of Massachusetts at Amherst

nachricht Gravitational wave kicks monster black hole out of galactic core
24.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Giant Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.

The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...

Im Focus: Tracing down linear ubiquitination

Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.

Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...

Im Focus: Perovskite edges can be tuned for optoelectronic performance

Layered 2D material improves efficiency for solar cells and LEDs

In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...

Im Focus: Polymer-coated silicon nanosheets as alternative to graphene: A perfect team for nanoelectronics

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.

Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...

Im Focus: Researchers Imitate Molecular Crowding in Cells

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.

Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

International Land Use Symposium ILUS 2017: Call for Abstracts and Registration open

20.03.2017 | Event News

CONNECT 2017: International congress on connective tissue

14.03.2017 | Event News

ICTM Conference: Turbine Construction between Big Data and Additive Manufacturing

07.03.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Northern oceans pumped CO2 into the atmosphere

27.03.2017 | Earth Sciences

Fingerprint' technique spots frog populations at risk from pollution

27.03.2017 | Life Sciences

Big data approach to predict protein structure

27.03.2017 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>