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Physicists have discovered a way to see the elusive 'Unruh effect' in the lab

Physicists have discovered a way to see the elusive ‘Unruh effect’ in the lab

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fee: Carl Gustafson

Says a team of physicists have They discovered two properties of the accelerating matter that they believed could make some type of radiation visible before. newly described It means that monitoring the radiation – called the Unruh effect – can happen in a lab experiment on the table.

The Unruh effect in nature theoretically requires an absurd amount of acceleration to be visibleBecause it is only visible from the point of view of the object accelerating in a vacuum, it is essentially impossible to see. But thanks to recent advances, it may be possible to observe the Unruh effect in a lab experiment.

In the new research, a team of scientists describes two previously unknown aspects of the quantum field that may mean that the Unruh effect can be directly observed. The first is that the effect can be potentiated, which means that a typically weak effect can be encouraged to become more pronounced under certain conditions. The second phenomenon is that a sufficiently accelerated atom can become transparent. The team’s research was published This spring in physical review letters.

The Unruh effect (or the Fulling-Davies-Unruh effect, named after the physicists who first proposed its existence in the 1970s) is a phenomenon predicted by quantum field theory, which states that “an entity (whether a particle or spaceship) accelerating in a vacuum will glow, though that glow will”Observablewheat for Any external observer is also not accelerating in a vacuum.

“What the acceleration-induced transparency means is that it makes the Unruh effect detector transparent to daily shifts, due to the nature of its motion,” University physicist Barbara Chuda in Waterloo and lead author of the study said in a video call. with Gizmodo. Just as black holes emit Hawking radiation when their gravity pulls particles together, the Unruh effect is emitted by objects as they accelerate through space.

There are several reasons why the Unruh effect has not been directly observed. First, the effect requires an absurd amount of linear acceleration; To reach a temperature of 1 K, at which the accelerating observer sees the glow, the observer We must hurryto me 100 quintillion meters per square second. Glow Thermal Unruh Effect; If the object is accelerating faster, the glow temperature It will be warmer.

Previous methods of observing the effect of Unruh suggested. but this The team believes they have a compelling opportunity to observe the effect, thanks to their findings On the properties of the quantum field.

“We would like to build a customized experiment that can unambiguously reveal the Unruh effect, and then provide a platform for studying various relevant aspects,” said Viveshek Sudhir, a physicist at MIT and co-author of the latest work. “Unambiguously is the key characteristic here: in a particle accelerator, it is the groups of particles that are really being accelerated, which means that it becomes very difficult to infer the very precise Unruh effect from the different interactions between the group particles.

Sudhir concluded that “in a sense, we need to make a more accurate measurement of the properties of a single, well-defined accelerating particle, which is not the purpose for which particle accelerators were made.”

Hawking radiation should be emitted from black holes, like these two images from the Event Horizon Telescope.

Hawking radiation should be emitted from black holes, like these two images from the Event Horizon Telescope.
picture: EHT Collaboration

The core of their proposed experiment is to induce the Unruh effect in a laboratory setting, using an atom as a detector for the Unruh effect. By blasting a single atom with photons, the team would raise the particle to a higher energy state, and its transparency caused by the acceleration would cut the particle away from any everyday noise that would mask the existence of the Unruh effect.

By pushing the particle with a laser, “you’ll increase the likelihood of seeing the Unruh effect, and potentially increase the number of photons in the field,” Ooda said. “And that number can be huge, depending on how much laser power you have. In other words, because researchers can strike with particle quadrillion shotons, they increase the probability of an Unruh effect by 15 orders of magnitude.

Since the Unruh effect is similar to Hawking radiation in many ways, the researchers believe that the quantum field properties they recently described can be used to stimulate Hawking radiation and imply a gravitational transparency. Since Hawking radiation has never been observed, the Unruh effect degassing may be a step towards that A better understanding of the theoretical glow around black holes.

Of course, these results don’t mean much if the Unruh effect can’t be directly observed in the lab — the researchers’ next step. exactly when What experiment will be conducted, however, remains to be seen.

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