SciTech Briefs

CERN creates record particle collision

On March 30, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) made a huge leap in the field of quantum physics. Using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) particle accelerator, scientists achieved energies from the collision of two protons at speeds nearly 3.5 times higher than previously recorded, making it the largest ever release of energy by a particle accelerator.

The protons were sped through CERN’s 27-kilometer-long LHC tunnel near Geneva, reaching speeds close to light speed at the point of impact, over a course of almost two weeks. The entire process took 7 trillion electronvolts (TeVs) — the energy gained by one trillion electrons as they travel through a potential of one volt — and almost two years of research.

Researchers are hoping to use this discovery to gain greater insight into the creation of the universe, realize why matter has mass, and explore new fields of fundamental quantum physics. Some hope that the debris from another such collision will shed light on the elusive Higgs boson, the theoretical elementary particle of mass. In any case, CERN hopes to soon utilize the LHC’s full capacity — 14 TeVs — in its experiments.

As CERN director Rolf Heur put it, “It’s a great day to be a particle physicist.”

Source: BBC News

Quantum mechanics keep time

Currently, atomic clocks run on the cesium scale, which measures the number of vibrations of a set of cesium atoms per second. There are certain inaccuracies in the measurement of the vibrations, so there have been suggestions to use quantum physics to increase the precision of these clocks’ time-telling.

Two teams, one headed by Philipp Treutlein, assistant professor of physics at the University of Basel, and the other by Markus Oberthaler, professor of physics at Heidelberg University, manipulated quantum mechanics in order to improve the accuracy of atomic clocks. There is a quantum phase of matter called the Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC), in which the atoms are placed in multiple energy states simultaneously (known as a “superstate”) and then snapped permanently into one of the states after their original state is measured. The inaccuracies arise when many trials of the experiment are done; the number of atoms in each energy state begins to differ in each run.

Treutlein’s group used a chip with a microwave pulse to make sure that only those atoms of the same energy state interacted. Oberthaler’s applied a magnetic field to the BEC in order to strengthen and weaken collisions between atoms depending on their states.

Source: Scientific American

Cell phones may not affect driving

Although countless people have been cautioned about using a cell phone while driving, a new study indicates that driving ability might not be as impaired by cell phone use as previously believed.
Jason Watson and David Stayer, psychologists at the University of Utah, conducted an experiment with young drivers (ages 18–43) and their ability to drive, perform simple math equations, and recall words while simultaneously talking on a phone.

The study showed that the ability to perform these tasks declined dramatically while driving. However, a number of subjects actually improved their performance. These people, called “supertaskers,” contradict the accepted views on attention and mental control, which is that doing two tasks at once lowers performance in each. The cause of this anomaly, whether specific mental mechanisms or personal tendencies, remains unknown.

Source: Wired magazine