A mysterious quantum phenomenon reveals an image of an atom like never before. You can even see the difference between protons and neutrons.
The Relativistic Heavy Ion Accelerator (RHIC), from the Brookhaven Laboratory in the United States, is a sophisticated device capable of accelerating gold ions to a speed of up to 99.995% that of light. Thanks to him, it has recently been possible to verify, for example, Einstein's famous equation E=mc2.
IMAGE: BROOKHAVEN LABORATORY. Final view of a gold atom particles colliding in the STAR detector of the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The beams travel in opposite directions at nearly the speed of light before colliding.
Now, researchers in this laboratory have shown how it is possible to obtain precise details about the arrangement of protons and neutrons in gold using a type of quantum interference never seen before in an experiment . The technique is reminiscent of the positron emission tomography (PET) scan that doctors use to peer into the brain and other anatomical parts.
BEYOND WHAT WAS SEEN BEFORE
No microscopic probe or X-ray machine is capable of peering into the innards of the atom, so physicists can only theorize what happens there based on the remains of high-speed collisions that take place in particle colliders , such as CERN 's LHC .
However, this new tool opens the possibility of making more precise inferences of protons and neutrons (which make up atomic nuclei) thanks to the quantum entanglement of particles produced when gold atoms rub against each other at high speed.
PHOTO: BROOKHAVEN LABORATORY, UNITED STATES.
The researchers have shown how it is possible to obtain precise details about the arrangement of protons and neutrons in gold using a type of quantum interference never seen before in an experiment.
At this scale, nothing can be observed directly because the very light used to carry out the observation interferes with the same observation. However, given enough energy, light waves can actually stir up pairs of particles that make up protons and neutrons, such as quarks and antiquarks .
When two nuclei intersect within a few nuclear radii, a photon from one nucleus can interact through a virtual quark-antiquark pair with gluons from the other nucleus (gluons are mediators of the strong interaction, the force that binds nuclei). quarks inside protons and neutrons).
This allows for the equivalent of the first experimental observation of entanglement involving different particles, allowing images so precise that the difference between the place of neutrons and protons within the atomic nucleus can even begin to be appreciated.