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Possible direct detection of gravitational waves overshadowed by controversy

When American physicists Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor discovered the first pulsar in a binary star system in 1974, their discovery and analysis of their findings would lead to their winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993, for the first indirect detection of gravitational waves as first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916. What scientists seek now is the first direct detection.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is designed to directly detect gravitational waves and may well have found them based on a controversial tweet posted by a well-respected theoretical physicist, Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State University’s Department of Physics. Krauss does make follow-up tweet saying he is not part of the LIGO collaboration nor associated with anyone there, but as an important and accomplished dark energy theorist that has every reason to be very interested in the results.

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The general public and the scientific community are very skeptical and for good reason given the announcement by a non-participant in the experiment, as well as an anonymous source. Too many times in the recent past, from the OPERA “faster-than-light” neutrino controversy that proved to be false via an engineering malfunction, to a CERN scientist “outing” a Higgs boson discovery which turned out to be within experimental error therefore false, to the BICEP2 “confirmation” of Inflationary Big Bang “proof” that was then shown via the proper channels of peer review and discussion to be inconclusive, have well-intentioned scientists trying to “share the joy”, first, that wasn’t, turned out to be wrong.

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While many may criticize Krauss for stealing the thunder of the actual experimenters, the fact remains that such a discovery would propel it to one of the greatest scientific achievements of all time. It would also set the stage for future physics discoveries, such as the unification of quantum field theory and  general relativity into quantum gravity, which itself would enable us to devise state-of-the-art propulsion systems to quickly get us to the planets, and the stars.

 

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New LHC data hints at possible particle discovery

A new fundamental particle seems to be on the horizon, awaiting confirmation of its discovery.  If further testing at CERN confirms what recent tests have hinted at, physicists could have their first look at a fundamental particle involved in the force of gravity.

According to Time, recent tests at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have uncovered tantalizing results that appear to reveal a particle similar to the Higgs Boson, which is a particle believed to give mass to other particles. 

Two different research teams at CERN conducted tests that produced photons carrying about 750 billion electron volts of energy, which may indicate the radioactive decaying action of a new fundamental particle.

Some scientists suspect that the results indicate the presence of graviton, a theoretical particle of gravitational energy.  Another possibility is that the particle is a heavier relative of the Higgs Boson.  “The Higgs,” as it is affectionately called, was a theoretical particle until its existence was confirmed by CERN researchers in 2013.

One goal of CERN researchers is to uncover signs of physics occurring outside the Standard Model, which describes the interactions of elementary articles but leaves some phenomena unexplained.  According to a CERN update, the two teams involved with the potential new discovery each presented around 30 analyses, about half of which have relevance to Beyond-Standard-Model research.

The experiment results are not conclusive at this point, as test data so far has not reached the sought-for five-sigma confidence level, which is a 1-in-3.5-million chance that a result is a coincidence.  However, the fact that two separate teams saw similar test results leads researchers to find the information noteworthy and indicative of a reasonable chance that further testing will prove highly valuable.

“I don’t think there is anyone around who thinks this is conclusive,” CERN scientist Kyle Cranmer of New York University said. “But it would be huge if true.”

Whether a graviton, a Higgs cousin, or another similar particle, the new discovery, if confirmed, would further physicists’ understanding of how mass and gravity interact on the quantum scale to affect the form and movement of all matter in the universe.

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Scientists make breakthrough discovery of quantum computing methodology

A research team led by University of Chicago scientists have discovered a new methodology to document quantum mechanical behavior of electrons contained in the flaws of diamonds. The scientists blasted a region of a diamond that contained a nitrogen atom with repeated, quick pulses of a laser beam, which enabled the team to control the quantum state of the area as well as observe the electron state of a single electron.

“These defects have garnered great interest over the past decade, providing a test-bed system for developing semiconductor quantum bits as well as nanoscale sensors,” said team leader David Awschalom, the Liew Family Professor of Molecular Engineering at University of Chicago in a statement. “Here, we were able to harness light to completely control the quantum state of this defect at extremely high speeds.”

The discovery has vast implications for the holy grail of computer science: quantum computing. Traditionally, computing has been restricted to a binary system, where information can be either classified as a ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or 0 and 1. However, such rigid aspects of computing neglect the fact that information is usually that in a more complex, quantum state.

“It’s quite a versatile technique, providing a full picture of the excited state of the quantum defect,” said F. Joseph Heremans, a University of Chicago postdoctoral scholar, and co-lead author on the paper, in a statement. “Previous work on the nitrogen-vacancy center has hinted at some of these processes, but here, simply through the application of these ultrafast pulses, we get a much richer understanding of this quantum beast.”

The development of quantum computing technologies would allow computers to process new information at blazing speed. Such technologies piqued the interest of military departments (the Air Force provided a portion of funding for this study) for the potential applications, such as code breaking. Scientists also are smitten with the potential to use quantum computing to research and perform complex calculations in a fraction of the time.

“You only have to be able to use light to transfer an electron between a ground state and an excited state,” said Awschalom.

he team researched a quantum mechanical property of the electron known as spin. Much li

Researchers studied a naturally occurring flaw in diamonds known as the nitrogen-vacancy (NV) center. The center is a defect in the crystal lattice structure of a diamond, where instead of an interwoven carbon atom, an atom of nitrogen is embedded.

By focusing a pulsating laser beam on the NV center, scientists can capture snapshots of the state of the atom and its quantum state. The first pulse activates the the atom into an excited state, and the second pulse stops activity, allowing researchers to capture the minute differences across the atoms quantum spin.

“This technique offers a path toward understanding and controlling new materials at the atomic level,” said Professor Guido Burkard, theoretical physicist at the University of Konstanz and a co-author of the paper.

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Physicists set new distance record for quantum teleportation

Engineers have achieved a quantum transfer of information contained in photons in an optical fiber over a 100 kilometer distance.

According to Discovery News, a team from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), led by Hiroki Takesue from NTT Corp. in Japan, transferred a quantum state from one light particle to another over the 100-km distance, marking a new record distance for quantum teleportation.

The team attributes its success to the new type of detector developed at NIST to locate single photons.

“Only about 1 percent of photons make it all the way through 100 km of fiber,” Marty Stevens of NIST said in a statement. “We never could have done this experiment without these new detectors, which can measure this incredibly weak signal.”

The phenomenon in play for the long-distance, instantaneous transmission of information is called quantum entanglement, which Einstein dubbed “spooky action at a distance.”  Entanglement occurs when two particles become linked and maintain their relationship over a distance.  The quantum state of one is linked to the state of the other, and that link makes the particles capable of affecting one another – namely, transmitting quantum information from one entangled particle to its partner instantly over a distance.

According to The Weather Space, further advances in quantum teleportation of information could lead to advanced encryption capabilities, useful for transmissions between Earth and spacecraft.  Research may also lead to quantum computing, a quantum Internet and long-range, instantaneous transmissions for space exploration.

The team published the report in Optica and has posted an infographic describing the experiment.

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New CERN results reveal more about Higgs boson

Results rolling in from CERN are shedding new light on the Higgs boson particle.

According to Phys.org, both ATLAS and CMS experiments at the Large Hadron Collider collected data leading to the new insight. The two collaborative projects presented combined measurements of many of the particle’s properties, leading to a clearer picture of the boson than was previously achieved.

The Higgs boson, long-theorized and then discovered three years ago, is known in the realm of quantum physics for lending credence to the idea that the universe is permeated by the Higgs field, which is responsible for explaining how matter has mass. One can think of the Higgs boson as a force carrier of gravity.

The newly shared data shows more about how the Higgs is formed and how it decays, as well as its interactions with other particles. So far, all of the boson’s measured properties are in line with the Standard Model of physics, making it a useful measure marker for future experiments.

“The Higgs boson is a fantastic new tool to test the Standard Model of particle physics and study the Brout-Englert-Higgs mechanism that gives mass to elementary particles,” CERN Director Rolf Heuer said. “There is much benefit in combining the results of large experiments to reach the high precision needed for the next breakthrough in our field. By doing so, we achieve what for a single experiment would have meant running for at least two more years.”

“Combining results from two large experiments was a real challenge,” CMS researcher Tiziano Camporesi said. “With such a result and the flow of new data at the new energy level at the LHC, we are in a good position to look at the Higgs boson from every possible angle.”

The combined research teams were able to pinpoint the rates of the particle’s most common decays, which are linked to the strength of inter-particle interactions between the Higgs and elementary particles.

Further testing based on what is now known of the Higgs boson may reveal how far the Standard Model will go in terms of predicting results, and at what point, if any, a new realm of physics beyond the Standard Model may emerge.

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Large Hadron Collider resumes experiments at new peak power

After a two-year refit and a two-month restart, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is up to full power and starting to collect data on record-breaking particle collisions. This marks the first time the LHC has delivered physics data in 27 months, and the machine is expected to run nonstop for three years.

“With the LHC back in the collision-production mode, we celebrate the end of two months of beam commissioning,” Frédérick Bordry of CERN said in a statement. “It is a great accomplishment and a rewarding moment for all of the teams involved in the work performed during the long shutdown of the LHC, in the powering tests and in the beam commissioning process. All these people have dedicated so much of their time to making this happen.”

According to Discovery News, LHC engineers announced today that the accelerator is maintaining “stable beams” such that the various detectors attached to the LHC can begin collecting data on particle collisions. Now LHC researchers can increase the number of protons being thrown into collisions until they reach the LHC’s maximum capacity of producing up to one billion particle collisions every second.

The LHC is the world’s largest particle accelerator, with a 17-mile-long ring of electromagnets, now running at 13 TeV of power — nearly double the energy in use when the Higgs boson was discovered in 2012.

CERN scientists are hoping to uncover information about the more mysterious particles, such as the ever-elusive dark matter which is thought to account for a majority of the matter in the universe. Researchers also hope to gain some insight into the distribution of antimatter, or to catch a glimpse of supersymmetry in action.

“The first 3-year run of the LHC, which culminated with a major discovery in July 2012, was only the start of our journey. It is time for new physics!” Rolf Heuer of CERN said. “We have seen the first data beginning to flow. Let’s see what they will reveal to us about how our universe works.”

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Short circuit delays CERN collider’s restart

Researchers at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) facility are facing a setback in the planned re-launch of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). The recently refitted particle accelerator experienced a short circuit in the wiring of a vital magnet component.

According to a report by Reuters, the delay will last anywhere from a few days to several weeks.

The initial plan was for the LHC to fire up on Wednesday, building up to full-power particle collisions starting in May. The 17-mile-long underground machine had just finished undergoing a two-year refit to give it twice the power it had previously.

During the LHC’s prior experiments, CERN scientists attempted to recreate conditions similar to those found at the start of the universe. Researchers found evidence of a long-sought-for and now newly discovered subatomic particle, the Higgs boson, a crucial piece of the universal physics puzzle.

CERN scientists’ goals for the upcoming LHC operation include finding data that will bring the study of physics beyond the Standard Model and into what is being termed New Physics.

This search for knowledge will include gathering information about the nature of dark matter, which accounts for 96 percent of the matter in the universe but cannot be directly observed. Researchers will also be on the lookout for tiny black holes, which may offer a peek into the possibility that there exist multiple universes in addition to the one we occupy.

While disappointed in the delay caused by the wiring fault, CERN scientists are keeping the relatively small glitch in perspective.

“In the grand scheme of things, a few weeks delay in humankind’s quest to understand our universe is little more than the blink of an eye,” said Rolf Heuer of CERN.

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The Higgs boson may be a source of dark matter

Dark matter is one of the many mysteries that researchers at CERN hope to learn more about when the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) resumes operations in May. Now, thanks to a new model recently proposed by a team of scientists at Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, CERN researchers may be looking for dark matter to appear under unexpected circumstances.

The new model suggests that the Higgs boson – the particle thought to impart mass to other particles — can disintegrate into two other particles: a dark matter particle, and a photon — a light-carrying particle. This model makes the assumption that supersymmetry is real.

As explained in an International Business Times article, supersymmetry “predicts that there are more massive ‘super partners’ for every known particle, and is an extension of the Standard Model of particle physics…However, even the completed version of this theory fails to incorporate gravity and explain the origin and preponderance of dark matter in the universe.”

Christoffer Petersson, the theoretical particle physicist leading the team, said in a statement, “LHC is the only place where the model can be tested…the fact that they are willing to test my model at CERN is great.”

Similarly fortunate for Petersson is that two independent research teams at CERN – Atlas and CMS – both intend to look for any connection between the Higgs particle and dark matter.

Previous studies have produced an inadequate volume of data to either confirm or reject the model, but Zeynap Demiragli of CMS says, “we are already in full swing with new analyses in which we are testing his model in other ways and with more data.”

Dark matter is estimated to make up more than 84 percent of the matter in the universe, yet its place in the Standard Model remains elusive. Petersson and his team hope that their new model can bring dark matter particles into the light, as it were.

The new model includes a number of particles – including dark matter particles – which are currently absent in the Standard Model, and predicts that the Higgs boson will display properties not predicted by the Standard Model.

“If the model is found to fit, it would completely change our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of nature,” said Petersson.

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Existence of ‘very exotic’ matter confirmed by physicists

Physicists in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences have confirmed the existence of exotic hadron with two quarks, two anti-quarks — a type of matter that cannot be classified within the traditional quark model. Their results will be detailed in a highly anticipated article, processed by the Large Hadron Collider beauty (LHCb) Collaboration at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We’ve confirmed the unambiguous observation of a very exotic state—something that looks like a particle composed of two quarks and two anti-quarks,” notes professor of physics and one of the paper’s lead authors Tomasz Skwarnicki, a specialist in experimental high-energy physics. “The discovery certainly doesn’t fit the traditional quark model. It may give us a new way of looking at strong-interaction physics.”

Syracuse’s Department of Physics explains that “quarks are a type of particle that constitute matter…all of the matter that you see is made up of protons and neutrons, and these particles are composed of quarks.”

Occasionally, quarks interface with anti-quarks, which have the same mass but opposite charges. When this takes places, they form mesons. These compounds typically show up in the decay of heavy man-made particles. When quarks combine in threes, they form compound particles called baryons. Baryons and mesons are two classes of hadrons.

In 2007, however, the Belle Collaboration found an exotic particle known as Z(4430), which appeared to have two quarks and two anti-quarks.

“Some experts argued that Belle’s initial analysis was naïve and prone to arrive at an unjustified conclusion,” posits Skwarnicki. “As a result, many physicists concluded that there was no good evidence to prove this particle was real.”

Several years later, BaBar, a particle physics experiment designed to examine some of the most fundamental questions about the universe by investigating its basic constituents – elementary particles, utilized a more advanced analysis method, only to add more fuel to the fire.

“BaBar didn’t prove that Belle’s measurements and data interpretations were wrong,” Skwarnicki says. “They just felt that, based on their data, there was no need to postulate existence of this particle.”

Belle, as a result, conducted another analysis of the same data set and discovered statistically significant evidence for Z(4430).

LHCb utilized Belle and Babar’s analysis methods and confirmed that Z(4430) exists.

“This experiment is the clincher, showing that particles made up of two quarks and two anti-quarks actually exist,” Skwarnicki says. “There used to be less-clear evidence for the existence of such a particle, with one experiment being questioned by another. Now we know this is an observed structure, instead of some reflection or special feature of the data.”

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New particle called ‘quantum droplet’ exists for 25 trillionths of a second

Imagine living for 25 trillionths of second. Not much of an existence. However, a new particle — known as a “quantum droplet” — is stable enough for research on how light interacts with specialized types of matter, according to JILA physicists. Using a superfast laser and help from German theorists, physicists discovered a new semiconductor quasiparticle that briefly condenses into a liquid-like droplet. Additional details about the new particle are revealed in the journal Nature.

Quasiparticles are composites of smaller particles that can be generated inside solid materials and act together in an expected way. A simple example of a quasiparticle is the exciton. Princeton University notes that “an exciton is a bound state of an electron and hole which are attracted to each other by the electrostatic Coulomb force.”

The new quasiparticle is a tiny complex of electrons and holes in a new, unpaired arrangement. It’s called a “quantum droplet” because it has quantum characteristics like well-ordered energy levels, but also has some of the characteristics of a liquid. However, it deviates from a common liquid because the quantum droplet has a constrained size, beyond which the link between electrons and holes disappears.

According to a news release from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the new particle was produced “by exciting a gallium-arsenide semiconductor with an ultrafast red laser emitting about 100 million pulses per second. The pulses initially form excitons, which are known to travel around in semiconductors. As laser pulse intensity increases, more electron-hole pairs are created, with quantum droplets developing when the exciton density reaches a certain level. At that point, the pairing disappears and a few electrons take up positions relative to a given hole. The negatively charged electrons and positively charged holes create a neutral droplet. The droplets are like bubbles held together briefly by pressure from the surrounding plasma.”

The NIST notes that the JILA physicists’ experimental data on energy levels of individual droplet rings concurs with theoretical calculations performed by co-authors at the University of Marburg in Germany.

“Regarding practical benefits, nobody is going to build a quantum droplet widget. But this does have indirect benefits in terms of improving our understanding of how electrons interact in various situations, including in optoelectronic devices,” said JILA physicist Steven Cundiff in a statement.