10 Things That Physicists Just Made Possible
Science is a vast subject which, as technology advanced, made many impossible things possible. Be it finding loopholes in laws or combining the properties of two distinct materials, physicists never cease to invent things that a normal person cannot fathom. Here are 10 times when physicists made impossible things possible.
10. Law-Bending Coldness
Until last year, cooling a material was possible only to a certain extent due to the ‘quantum limit.’ But in January 2017, physicists came up with a drum made of aluminum membrane which had temperature below the quantum limit. It was made possible by using a laser which could ‘squeeze’ light. This laser reduced the out of path vibrations of the emitted radiation due to which it did not cause the temperature of the material to rise. The temperature recorded was 360-degree MicroKelvin that is less than one-fifth of a single quantum. The drum is 20 micrometers in diameter and 100 nanometers thick. The colder the drum is the more will be its applications, for example, sensors would become more sensitive. You can store information longer and if you were using it in a quantum computer, then you would compute without distortion.
9. The Brightest Light
Scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Extreme Light Laboratory created a light which was brighter than the surface of our sun. Let’s briefly recall how vision works. Photons (quanta of light) fall on an object and scatter the electrons from a surface giving them a certain wavelength. We are able to view the object due to these scattered electrons. One photon usually imparts its energy to one electron. But in this beam of light formed, it was seen that a single photon scattered at least 1000 electrons. This could be used in examining objects minutely. It could even be used in creating powerful X-rays which could sense minor fractures and tumors which are overlooked by the X-rays used in medical industry today.
8. Molecular Black Hole
The most powerful X-ray laser in existence, the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS), was deployed by the scientists at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory for conducting an experiment which could create a potential black hole at a molecular level. A single laser pulse stripped a few electrons out of the molecule’s biggest atom from the inside out, leaving a void that started pulling in electrons from the rest of the molecule, like a black hole gobbling a spiraling disk of matter. This was possible only due to the X-ray pulse. The intensity of X-ray pulses is hundred times more intense than what you’d get if you focused all the light from the sun, falling on earth’s surface, on a thumbnail.
7. Metallic Hydrogen
Thomas D. Cabot Professor of the Natural Sciences Isaac Silvera and post-doctoral fellow Ranga Dias called this piece of metallic hydrogen the ‘the holy grail of high-pressure physics.’ Metallic Hydrogen was theorized to be an excellent superconductor which is why it was more sought after than its gaseous counterpart. It was created under the conditions with pressure higher than there is at the center of the earth. However, it is said to be meta stable, which means that if the pressure is removed it will still stay metallic, just like diamond and graphite are formed under high pressure but stay in crystal state even after the pressure conditions alter.
6. Computer Chip with Brain Cells
This creation by European scientists has brought us a lot closer to treating neurological disorders by neural prostheses. They have developed ‘neuro-chips’ which are live brain cells and silicon chips coupled together. This has made the line between humanity and artificial intelligence a lot blurrier. To form these chips, researchers squeezed more than 16,000 electronic transistors and hundreds of capacitors onto a silicon chip just 1 millimeter square in size. They can do some impressive things like detecting lies, recognizing faces, and predicting heart attacks. Curing chronic mental disorders with the help of neuron chips is still a long way to go.
5. Impossible Form of Matter
Supersolids were first predicted by Russian physicists back in 1969, who hypothesized that a helium-4 isotope could display solid and liquid properties simultaneously, under certain conditions. This invention is the only relevant example of the overrated quote ‘Even the word impossible says I am possible.’ It was believed that supersolids existed but nobody had been able to prove the existence until recently. Supersolid is the fifth state of matter, the rest four being solid, liquid, gas, and plasma. A super solid exhibits properties of solids as well as fluids. They are rigid solid structures but can flow with zero viscosity. For example, if your coffee was a supersolid and you stirred, it’d spin forever.
4. Negative Mass Fluid
Imagine this. You slid a glass across the table and instead of moving in the direction of your applied force, it pushes back against your hand. Hard to imagine? Such an object, rather fluid, has been created by scientists in the US. It happens due to negative mass. If mass in Newton’s Laws of Motion is taken as negative, the acceleration we get will also be negative. This means that instead of moving in the direction of force, the fluid will accelerate opposite to the direction of force applied.
3. Time Crystals
No, they are not crystals that tell time. We all are familiar that ground state is the level of zero energy which is why there’s no motion and to excite a molecule from ground state to higher state, an external source of energy is required. Normal crystals, like diamonds, have a structure that repeats in space, i.e. a similar structure throughout the crystal. Whereas in time crystals, the structure is repeating itself, not only in space but also, in time. It is kind of like jelly, you touch it once and it has trouble sitting still but the difference is that these crystals keep oscillating without any energy. This is an entire new non-equilibrium phase of matter.
2. Bragg Mirrors
A Bragg mirror is a mirror structure which consists of an alternating sequence of layers of two different optical materials which satisfies Bragg’s law i.e. the angle of incidence = angle of scattering and the pathlength difference is equal to an integer number of wavelengths. These are used in places where tiniest mirrors are needed such as advanced electronics. These could be of major use in creating holograms and storing holographic memories.
1. 2-D Magnet
In June 2017, a team led by the University of Washington and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology chose chromium triiodide in an attempt to form a 2-D magnet. The crystal was layered which made it perfect thinning, which is why it could retain its magnetism even when peeled down to its last layer. Currently, the magnet does not work at room temperature and get damaged by oxygen. But reforming it further will definitely help physicists conduct experiments where ultra thin magnets are required.