New experiments challenge fundamental understanding of electromagnetism

Nov 28, 2012
Observations made with NIST's Electron Beam Ion Trap indicate that in ions with a strongly positive charge, electrons can behave in ways inconsistent with quantum electrodynamics (QED) theory, which describes electromagnetism. While more experiments are needed, the data could imply that some aspects of QED theory require revision. Credit: NIST

(Phys.org)—A cornerstone of physics may require a rethink if findings at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are confirmed. Recent experiments suggest that the most rigorous predictions based on the fundamental theory of electromagnetism—one of the four fundamental forces in the universe, and harnessed in all electronic devices—may not accurately account for the behavior of atoms in exotic, highly charged states.

The theory in question is known as , or QED, which have held in high regard for decades because of its excellent track record describing electromagnetism's effects on matter. In particular, QED has been especially useful in explaining the behavior of electrons, which orbit every . But for all of QED's successes, there are reasons to believe that QED may not provide a complete picture of reality, so scientists have looked for opportunities to test it to ever-increasing precision.

One way to test parts of QED is to take a fairly heavy atom—titanium or iron, for example—and strip away most of the electrons that circle its nucleus. "If 20 of titanium's 22 electrons are removed, it becomes a highly charged ion that looks in many ways like a helium atom that has been shrunk to a tenth its original size," says NIST physicist John Gillaspy, a member of the research team. "Ironically, in this unusual state, the effects of QED are magnified, so we can explore them in more detail."

Among the many things QED is good for is predicting what will happen when an electron orbiting the nucleus collides with a passing particle. The excited electron gets bumped up momentarily to a higher but quickly falls back to its original orbit. In the process, it gives off a photon of light, and QED tells what color (wavelength) that photon will have. The NIST team found that electrons in highly charged helium-like that are excited in this fashion give off that are noticeably different in color than QED predicts.

While the results—obtained using NIST's Electron Beam Ion Trap Facility—are interesting enough on their own to warrant publication, Gillaspy says he hopes the finding will stimulate others to measure the emitted photons with even greater accuracy. Currently, the NIST team is preparing to release the results of measurements of other colors of light emitted from the exotic atoms that bolster the initial findings.

"What the NIST experiment found is interesting enough that it merits attention," says Jonathan Sapirstein, a professor of physics at the University of Notre Dame. "Independent calculations should be done to confirm the theory, and other experiments should also confirm the findings. However, if no errors are found in the theory and the NIST experiment is correct, some physics outside of QED must be present."

Explore further: Superconducting circuits, simplified

More information: C.T. Chantler, et al., Testing three-body quantum electrodynamics with trapped Ti20+ ions: Evidence for a Z-dependent divergence between experiment and calculation. Physical Review Letters, Oct. 10, 2012. DOI 10.1103/PhysRevLett.109.153001

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Lurker2358
3.3 / 5 (7) Nov 28, 2012
Obviously has implications for cosmology in terms of stellar dynamics and matter jets near black holes and other objects.
cantdrive85
2 / 5 (11) Nov 28, 2012
Not to mention spectrographic analyses.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.2 / 5 (12) Nov 28, 2012
Obviously it has no implications until we know there is an effect.

Even if so, these rare states are not changing anything outside of QED. As for systems, light is light (energy transfer in cosmology), and as for applications, lines are lines (usage of unlabeled or labeled lines in spectroscopy).
cantdrive85
2.2 / 5 (13) Nov 28, 2012
"The NIST team found that electrons in highly charged helium-like ions that are excited in this fashion give off photons that are noticeably different in color than QED predicts."


Light is light (profound statement BTW), however, if the emitted light isn't what we assume it to be, how accurate is the spectrographic analysis?

thermodynamics
5 / 5 (9) Nov 28, 2012
I consider this to fall under the rule: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof." So far, this is only one experiment at one location. I will start to be moved when this is replicated and precision of the replications is similar.
David Lambert
4.3 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2012
I don't have access to the full article, so I have to speculate. In any quantum field theory, like QED or QCD (the strong force), one first tries calculations using a perturbative approximation of the exact answer.

In 2-body problems, each term in the perturbative approximation is a Feynman diagram times a power of A*Z1*Z2, Z1 and Z2 are the charges of the 2 bodies (in QED, Z1 and Z2 are integers), and A (alpha) is the dimensionless coupling constant. In QED, A is about 1/137. For 3-body problems, I guess the multiplier is some power of A*A*Z1*Z2*Z3.

For a perturbative approximation to be good, the multiplier must be < 1, otherwise the perturbative approximation never converges, and non-perturbative effects (like hadrons in QCD) occur. Here, Z for helium-like titanium is 20, making the multiplier a lot larger.

I speculate their METHOD for perturbative approximations is failing, not QED itself. They may have to do their calculation on a lattice, like in low-energy QCD.
philw1776
2.3 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2012
If as mentioned above iron under these unusual conditions emits photons of different wavelengths than QED predicts, then spectrographic analysis of stuff like supernovae could well be misleading. Exciting results if confirmed.
casualjoe
2.4 / 5 (5) Nov 28, 2012
The NIST team found that electrons in highly charged helium-like ions that are excited in this fashion give off photons that are noticeably different in color than QED predicts.


So now i'm left thinking, is the light seen to be redder or bluer under these conditions? And whether there is a QED/QCD relationship that's missing from the picture?
Pressure2
1.7 / 5 (6) Nov 28, 2012
Quote from article: "The NIST team found that electrons in highly charged helium-like ions that are excited in this fashion give off photons that are noticeably different in color than QED predicts."

What I would like to know is the difference in a higher or lower frequency range than what QED predicts? I would think the results would be in a much higher frequency range because of the much higher positive charge of the heavier ions than in helium.
baudrunner
3.1 / 5 (9) Nov 28, 2012
There is something missing in the QED equations that doesn't account for the properties of the highly charged ion. For example, the phase shift that logic dictates should exist through the action of the intensely attractive force of the nucleus not being counterbalanced by the missing electrons.
Parsec
4.7 / 5 (12) Nov 28, 2012
If as mentioned above iron under these unusual conditions emits photons of different wavelengths than QED predicts, then spectrographic analysis of stuff like supernovae could well be misleading. Exciting results if confirmed.

Well, not really. The light observed from supernovae primarily consists of the luminosity from the decay of radioactive elements (primarily Ni26). Only the first second (at most) of the explosion would actually contain ions this highly ionized. We usually don't see these events when they actually happen.
ValeriaT
1.4 / 5 (11) Nov 28, 2012
IMO it's the discrepancy in Lamb shift, which leads into anomalous size of proton as measured before few years for muonic hydrogen (muons are heavier version of electrons so they're revolving the protons at higher proximity, than the common electrons). The atom nuclei are surrounded with coat of virtual quarks, which do behave in similar way, like the dark matter clouds around massive objects, or like Yukawa force for smaller particles. It weakens the binding force of electrons, when they appear nearby of atom nuclei, because the vacuum is more dense there, than in bulk state.
jsdarkdestruction
3.5 / 5 (10) Nov 28, 2012
very interesting. i cant wait to see where this leads us. at the least if its legit it will better our understanding of qed, it would be really cool if it led us to something bigger we didnt know though. i love science for this reason. its win-win. in fact even if it turns out their was some type of error in the experiment we will still learn from it. you cant lose with science. too bad the eu guys and zephyr cant understand that.
ValeriaT
1.3 / 5 (14) Nov 28, 2012
very interesting. its win-win...too bad the eu guys and zephyr cant understand that.
I'm afraid, this is interesting only for close lobby of nerds, who just follow their own interests, safe jobs, salaries and money for their toys. For me these effects follow quite straightforwardly from dense aether model, i.e. they're not surprising at all (we are observing them like Yukawa and Casimir force at all dimensional scales).

What's worse, these experiments are completely useless from practical perspective and they're just draining both financial, both precious intellectual resources from really useful research, like the cold fusion. At the moment, when most of words suffers with poverty and risks of geopolitical conflict, I do consider this research ignorant, nonethical and separated from the actual needs of human society.
ValeriaT
1.3 / 5 (13) Nov 28, 2012
These effects do manifest even at the human society. Every financially important idea or religion attracts elevated concentration of its sympathizers which serves as an analogy of gravitational field (the concentration of sympathizers increases with proximity of the source of that idea).

But we can observe somehow paradoxical effect, that the increasing concentration of proponents of idea attracts its deniers too. These deniers are concentrated just at the places, where the density of supporters increases most rapidly and they do represent a psychosocial analogy of dark matter. These deniers are negativists by their very nature (they do represent the negative curvature of space-time) and as such they're attracted with every sign of weakness of the idea (they're of negative gravitational charge). Occasionally these deniers may become so significant, they will raise individual counter-theories, which do serve as a supersymetrical particles and attract their own groups of supporters.
ValeriaT
1.3 / 5 (13) Nov 28, 2012
For example, the elevated concentration of posts bellow articles about new version of Windows attracts the Linux fans, who aren't indeed attracted to these articles as such being a Windows haters - but they're looking for listeners and flamewars, so they're attracted to elevated concentration of Windows users there.

This situation is solely symmetrical: under articles about new versions of Linux not only Linux fans, but even Windows users are concentrated. It illustrates the underlying concept of gauge fields of supersymmetry theory.

Note that the deniers tend to cumulate at the surface of the crowd or at the weak places of it, where they wouldn't face too strong opposition. This behavior represents an analogy of dark matter behavior: the dark matter surrounds the galaxies, but it doesn't penetrate them at depth. It's attracted to the negative (i.e. raising) GRADIENT of gravity field, not its SOURCE as such.
ValeriaT
1.3 / 5 (14) Nov 28, 2012
if it turns out their was some type of error in the experiment we will still learn from it
Unfortunately the scientific people are flooded with information explosion in such a way, they cannot even learn from their success, not to say about mistakes (which are simply ignored in such dull success seeking crowd completely). Most of scientific research is therefore duplicated and even claimed as an original one under new names, because the overgrown community of scientists spouted with universities desperately seeks for easy and reliable jobs. The scientific lobby represents an industry with its own laws and inertia like any other large sphere of influence: the lobby of lawyers, politicians or multimedia companies. All these groups are indispensable for the rest of human society and they're relying excessively on it.
Q-Star
3.6 / 5 (18) Nov 28, 2012
Maybe if the "internet" gurus and self-proclaimed "voices in the wilderness" spent 25% of the time they spend whining about how they are tormented victims of the mainstream establishment,,, actually presenting a coherent argument of the science, and explaining why their view is correct,,,, maybe they would be taken more seriously.

They would then also be left with 75% of their time to really learn their subject.

You guys will never succeed at reforming the science establishment until you have in your possession something better.

That's not rocket surgery or brain science, that's the natural order of the human condition.

The first sign of a "tin foil hat" "conspiracy wing-nut" is their certainty that they are victims, they are right, and it's more important to present their suffering than to present their case.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (11) Nov 28, 2012
You guys will never succeed at reforming the science establishment until you have in your possession something better.
There were many people, who brought brilliant ideas into physics before years already (B. Heim, for example) - and they were ignored quietly despite the pile of coherent arguments and math. The physics community has its own inertia and its driven with its own mechanisms. So I don't want and expect to change the scientific establishment (it would be really a waste of time for me) - but the way, in which the physics is perceived with layman people. BTW I don't suffer with anything from this perspective - actually I think, I'm more famous already, than many physicists, who are doing physics dutifully for years. For example, the people are calling me a Zephir, despite this account has been banned from there before three years already.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (10) Nov 28, 2012
You guys will never succeed at reforming the science establishment until you have in your possession something better.
IMO the mainstream physics exhausted its ability to explain its subject already. Another pile of math will not make the contemporary physics more accessible for laymans - on the contrary. Which I why I'm collecting intuitive and playful analogies from another areas of physics, biology or even social sciences for to explain, how phenomena in real world are connected mutually. IMO each way, which could make the understanding of complex physics more straightforward for people is useful here. I do believe, it could help to navigate even the mainstream scientists in fast growing pile of knowledge. The only group of people, which could feel threatened with such approach are the high school teachers, who are relying on formal rigor as the only way, how to understand the things.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (11) Nov 28, 2012
In my theory the intuitive understanding of physics could play as significant role, as the dark matter in the universe. It's because the intuitive holistic understanding of things is mediated with transverse waves of information and it's dual to strictly deterministic approach, which plays a role of transverse light waves.

The actual power is in synergy of intuitive and deterministic approach - but we have a two dual perspectives here. Most of mainstream physics is derived with pile of rigor supported with tiny bits of intuitive understanding in similar way, like the observable reality is mostly formed with solitons of light with small amount of longitudinal waves at their center. Whereas the dark matter is formed mostly with supersymmetric solitons of longitudinal waves with bits of transverse waves at their center. So I do consider the emergent dense aether models as a dual version of physics: the intuitive physics for masses and I've even geometric motivation for it.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (11) Nov 28, 2012
IMO the contemporary society evolves in the way, that the dual character of this synergy becomes apparent even in another areas. For example in computer programming the OpenSource proved its vitality, in science publishing the OpenAccess model gains importance.. The "garage research" could become a significant driving force of the further progress of human society (I mean all these cold fusion and ZPE devices). Even in politics the capitalism isn't so hegemonic force of evolution as before. The capitalism of western world is getting more and more social and the example of China illustrates, even the centrally driven governmental model could gain its economical success independently. All these strategies were once considered antagonistic and malignant - but now we can see, that they can coexist with mainstream quite easily.
Caliban
3.3 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2012
Quote from article: "The NIST team found that electrons in highly charged helium-like ions that are excited in this fashion give off photons that are noticeably different in color than QED predicts."

What I would like to know is the difference in a higher or lower frequency range than what QED predicts? I would think the results would be in a much higher frequency range because of the much higher positive charge of the heavier ions than in helium.


@P2
I was thinking along those same lines. I was also wondering if, after a relatively large atom has been stripped of mosy of its electrons, can its nucleus become deformed by the lack of balancing charges represented by the stripped electrons?

And could this cause the remaing electron orbits to deform as well, and become elliptical or eccentric to some extent?

Lastly, could this cause instantaneous changes to their momentum, and thus energy-- and could this be the source of the color variations?


barakn
5 / 5 (6) Nov 29, 2012
If 20 of titanium's 22 electrons are removed, it becomes a highly charged ion that looks in many ways like a helium atom that has been shrunk to a tenth its original size
... and the titanium nucleus is ~(48/4)^(1/3) = 2.3x wider than a helium-4 nucleus. Since the radial distribution function of a 1s orbital http://winter.gro...ist.html is not flat but pseudo-linear near R=0 (and will be steeper in the 10x-smaller titanium electron orbits), this introduces another factor of 10. I thus estimate the electrons in the hyper-ionized titanium spend 230x more time in the nucleus than they do in a helium atom. To me (at least) this suggests QCD corrections to QED are in order for high-Z atoms.
IronhorseA
3 / 5 (4) Nov 29, 2012


@P2
I was thinking along those same lines. I was also wondering if, after a relatively large atom has been stripped of mosy of its electrons, can its nucleus become deformed by the lack of balancing charges represented by the stripped electrons?

And could this cause the remaing electron orbits to deform as well, and become elliptical or eccentric to some extent?

Lastly, could this cause instantaneous changes to their momentum, and thus energy-- and could this be the source of the color variations?




Or perhaps the field strength is sufficient to interact with the emitted photons so as to shift their frequency.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (8) Nov 29, 2012
I was also wondering if, after a relatively large atom has been stripped of mosy of its electrons, can its nucleus become deformed by the lack of balancing charges

The nucleus is all protons (and neutrons) - so continually trying to push itself apart with terrific force were it not for the fact that the strong nuclear force held it together). If you strip the electrons away then the nucleus should become a tiny bit denser as the attractive force emanating from them towards the protons would be removed.

However, not by very much as the ranges between nucleons are far smaller than the ranges between protons and electrons. And at the nucelan-nucleon ranges strong nuclear forces dominate utterly for such lightweight atoms as titanium (it gets to be more on an equal footing for larger atoms because the strong nuclear force is so short ranged. That's why the really heavy ones are unstable/radioactive BTW) .
Sonhouse
3.4 / 5 (5) Nov 29, 2012
if it turns out their was some type of error in the experiment we will still learn from it
Unfortunately the scientific people are flooded with information explosion in such a way, they cannot even learn from their success, not to say about mistakes (which are http://science.sl...-science in such dull success seeking crowd completely). Most of scientific research is therefore duplicated and even claimed as an original one under new names, because the overgrown community of scientists spouted with universities desperately seeks for easy and reliable jobs. The scientific lobby represents an industry with its own laws and inertia like any other large sphere of influence: the lobby of lawyers, politicians or multimedia companies. All these groups are indispensable for the rest of human society and they're relying excessively on it.

You do like to hear yourself talk, don't you?
Sonhouse
3 / 5 (6) Nov 29, 2012
You guys will never succeed at reforming the science establishment until you have in your possession something better.
IMO the mainstream physics exhausted its ability to explain its subject already. Another pile of math will not make the contemporary physics more accessible for laymans - on the contrary. Which I why I'm collecting intuitive and playful analogies from another areas of physics, biology or even social sciences for to explain, how phenomena in real world are connected mutually. IMO each way, which could make the understanding of complex physics more straightforward for people is useful here. I do believe, it could help to navigate even the mainstream scientists in fast growing pile of knowledge. The only group of people, which could feel threatened with such approach are the high school teachers, who are relying on formal rigor as the only way, how to understand the things.

My oh my how you like to hear yourself talk. And write long passages we can't quote
Job001
1.8 / 5 (5) Dec 01, 2012
I the rule: "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof."
This human bias rule is untrustworthy leading to hubris. Statistical science needs no bias for the status quo, just good statistical science.
ValeriaT
1.6 / 5 (7) Dec 01, 2012
how you like to hear yourself talk
Actually for me it's quite difficult to write it, as the English is not my first or even second language.
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof
It depends what you consider as "extraordinary". The contemporary physics can compute only tiny fragment from the observable Universe at the two distance scales - everything else is considered an "extraordinary", although it's could be quite apparent for everyone.
ValeriaT
1.4 / 5 (7) Dec 01, 2012
The people dealing with physics know quite well, the short distance anomalies appear at all scales. For example, at the atom scale it's well known Casimir force. At the large scales it's the dark matter effects. Even at the distance scales of quarks the anomalous force emerges: it's quite strong there, it's called Yukawa force and it's responsible for formation of top quark pairs for example. The analogous forces are responsible for pairing of electrons within solids (Cooper pairs) and for the formation of helium atom pairs above the surface of liquid helium. The distance scale of atom nuclei is actually the last distance scale, where we didn't observe these effects from apparent reason: a strong Coulomb forces dominate this distance scale. But at the case of neutrons we observed an indicia of neutron pair formation too. So that the above result is quite expectable even from trivial phenomenological perspective.
ValeriaT
1.4 / 5 (7) Dec 01, 2012
The existence of these effects at all distance scale indicates, their explanation would require a theory, which is not dependent on any particular force or distance scale. It must be very general theory, i.e. more general than the relativity or quantum mechanic theories, which do work well at their distance scales only.

The water surface analogy of the AWT provides such an explanation. In this theory the space-time is formed with density gradient of hypothetical particle environment, which can be modeled with water surface. At the water surface the objects interact via exchanging of transverse waves, which do play an analogy of light waves in the vacuum. But because this surface is formed with gradient of particle environment, the emergent Brownian noise is present at all scales and it makes the space-time undulating a bit.
ValeriaT
1 / 5 (6) Dec 01, 2012
At the water we can observe, the floating objects always coalesce, because the space between them is shielded from Brownian noise at the water surface. At the stormy sea this effect sometimes reportedly resulted into wreckage of ships, which appeared accidentally too close each other. So we can expect, in the vacuum the analogous mechanism manifest itself with shielding of virtual photons/gluons/Higgs bosons at small scales or gravitational waves at large scales. This mechanism is always the very same and it's consequence of dynamic inhomogeneity of space-time. We even have an evidence of this inhomogeneity, as it manifest itself with CMBR noise at the human observer scale, with dark matter foam at the cosmological scale and/or with Higgs bosons at the quantum scale.
Ojorf
3.3 / 5 (7) Dec 02, 2012
Valeria, nothing wrong with your ability to write, it's your reading that's the problem.
Sonhouse's comment went straight over your head didn't it?
swordsman
1 / 5 (4) Dec 06, 2012
If you remove 20 of the 22 electrons, you are left with 2 electrons. This is similar to the helium atom, except that there are many more protons. One can conjecture that the Coulomb forces would therefore draw the electrons closer and make the size smaller. That is just elementary physics. Why is everyone so surprised?
swordsman
1 / 5 (3) Dec 10, 2012
Natello, I agree that the effects of the change in the locations of the electrons with respect to the proton would make rather significant changes in the state energies and the wavelengths of radiation under excitation. I would expect that these energy states would increase significantly in level.