And the Oscar for "Best Short Film of a Sub-Atomic Particle" goes to…

Edward Willett @ 22-02-2008

Single frame from electron moviethis video of a single electron’s motion.

The movie, made at Lund University, Sweden, shows how an electron rides on a light wave after just having been pulled away from an atom. This is the first time an electron has ever been filmed. (Via EurekAlert.)

How do you film something that circles the nucleus of an atom once every 150 attoseconds? And how long is an attosecond, anyway?

To answer the second question first, an attosecond is 10 to the -18 of a second, or, as Johan Mauritsson, an assistant professor in atomic physics at the University, puts it, “an attosecond is related to a second as a second is related to the age of the universe.”

By using attosecond pulses created from intense laser light using recently developed technology, the researchers were able to guide the motion of an electron and capture a collision between it and an atom on film.

As you might guess, the encounter has been slowed down enormously so our slow-poke eyes and brains can register it.

OK, so it probably won’t win an Oscar at this Sunday’s Academy Awards, but it’s still pretty darn cool.

You can read the original scientific paper from Physical Review Letters here, and additional discussion of the achievement here.

(Image: Lund University.)

[tags]physics, particles, lasers, atoms[/tags]

The LHC may find extra dimensions

Tomas Martin @ 04-02-2008

xkcd is an absorbing mix of stick figures, physics, programming, math, love and dark humour

One of the main functions of the Large Hadron Collider – the huge supercollider in Geneva, Switzerland – is to find the underlying reasons for why the particles in the universe have mass and how gravity works. My masters project is a simulation of the most simplistic solution, the Standard Model Higgs Boson. If the collider doesn’t find this particle in its simple form, there are number of more complicated theories proposed for how the world works at this tiny level.

One of these theories supposes that for every particle in the universe, there’s a supersymmetric particle balancing it out. Another set of exotic theories that could be proved right at the LHC is Extra Dimensions – is the reason Gravity is so weak compared to the other forces because its power is trapped inside other dimensions we can’t see? This would link into the infamous string theory, which describes all the tiny particles we’re made of as vibrating strings of energy, suggesting six or seven dimension we can’t see that affect everything we do see! The 27km diameter collider will start smashing protons together later this year if all goes to plan and a new era of particle physics will begin.

[link via ScienceDaily, image from the awesome webcomic xkcd]

The LHC on track for summer launch

Tomas Martin @ 03-01-2008

Part of the huge LHC colliderAs a Physics student doing a masters project on a computer simulation of CERN’s new particle supercollider, I’ve got a vested interest in the progress of the real thing. CERN is reporting good progress on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and thinks it is on track to start producing results this summer.

The LHC accelerates two beams of protons in opposite directions around its 27-kilometre diameter ring, until the two beams meet and collide with huge amounts of energy. From this energy, particle physicists hope new particles will form that we haven’t seen before. Chief among those prospective discoveries is the Higgs Boson, which would explain why the other particles have mass.

The Guardian’s weekly science podcast talks about the prospects of finding new science at the LHC, whilst Fermilab has a good summary of the other potential new things the LHC might find when it begins colliding later this year.

[via Science Daily, image by poluz]