Physicists and engineers search for new dimension

March 10, 2008

The universe as we currently know it is made up of three dimensions of space and one of time, but researchers in the Department of Physics and the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech are exploring the possibility of an extra dimension.

Sound like an episode from the “Twilight Zone?” Almost, but not quite; according to John Simonetti, associate professor of physics in the College of Science and Michael Kavic, graduate student and one of the investigators on the project.

“The idea we’re exploring is that the universe has an imperceptibly small dimension (about one billionth of a nanometer) in addition to the four that we know currently,” Kavic said. “This extra dimension would be curled up, in a state similar to that of the entire universe at the time of the Big Bang.”

The group is looking for small primordial black holes that, when they explode, may produce a radio pulse that could be detected here on Earth. These black holes are called primordial because they were created a fraction of a second after the beginning of the universe.

Black holes are expected to evaporate over time, losing mass and therefore shrinking. A black hole larger than the extra dimension would wrap around it like a thick rubber band wrapped around a hose. As a black hole shrinks down to the size of the extra dimension, it would be stretched so thin it would snap, causing an explosion.

The explosion could produce a radio pulse. Under a National Science Foundation grant, the Virginia Tech group is preparing to set up an Eight-meter-wavelength Transient Array radio telescope in Montgomery County to search the sky for these radio pulses from explosions up to 300 light years away. They have a similar telescope in southwestern North Carolina that has been looking for events for several months.

“We have a number of things in mind that have been predicted to produce radio pulses, which have not been seen,” Simonetti said. “One of them is a primordial black hole explosion.”

“Basically we’re looking for any exotic, high-energy explosion that would produce radio waves,” Simonetti said. He said the establishment of the second radio telescope would help the two telescopes validate one another.

“If a pulse is detected in both instruments at about the same time, that’s a good indication we’re talking about something real as opposed to a pulse from manmade interference,” Simonetti said.

Why search for extra dimensions" One reason has to do with string theory, an area of physics that postulates that the fundamental building blocks of the universe are small strings of matter that oscillate much like a guitar string, producing various harmonics.

“String theory requires extra dimensions to be a consistent theory,” Kavic said. “String theory suggests a minimum of 10 dimensions, but we’re only considering models with one extra dimension.”

Some theorists believe the Large Hadron Collider, a giant particle accelerator being constructed near Geneva, Switzerland, might be able to detect an extra dimension. The Virginia Tech group hopes to detect them via radio astronomy, a much less elaborate and costly endeavor.

The Virginia Tech research team plans to run the search for at least five years. Others involved in the project include physics graduate student Sean Cutchin; College of Engineering professors Steven Ellingson and Cameron Patterson; and graduate students Brian Martin, Kshitija Deshpande, and Mahmud Harun.

“If we had evidence there is an extra dimension, it would really revolutionize how we think about space and time,” Kavic said. “This would be a very exciting discovery.”

For more information about the project, view the project online at www.ece.vt.edu/swe/eta/ .

Source: Virginia Tech

Explore further: Gravity up close: Looking for extra dimensions by measuring gravity at the microscopic level

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13 comments

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zevkirsh
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 10, 2008
lets build a 5 billion dollar machine to confirm that these don't exist.
Ragtime
Mar 10, 2008
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
earls
not rated yet Mar 10, 2008
Zev, I agree with your general sentiment, but...

"a much less elaborate and costly endeavor"

So...?

Why do the "black holes" produce radio waves... Or what is the connection.
MonsieurX
2.3 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2008
it's not useless, it's just one more in the numerical infinity to explore...
deatopmg
2 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2008
More mental masturbations of mathematical physicists? They'd better be careful, they'll likely hang themselves on those non-existent strings.

I suspect that the additional dimensions are not infinitesimally small but are in fact the same as the 4 we can sense...and the 3 flatlanders can sense.
Are the charges of the electron and positron (proton) energy flow through a finite 5th dimension?
fleem
not rated yet Mar 11, 2008
...and if this radio pulse is produced right at the point the evaporating black hole has only a very small mass, then the energy in the pulse would be extremely little. And since you can't integrate a single short-lived pulse out of the noise, they'll be detecting only black holes within a few inches of the detector. Sounds like a great way to spend the charity tax dollars I donated at threat of gunpoint. Although I think I'd rather those charity dollars forcibly taken from me be spent on Alaskan bridges to nowhere--at least somebody will probably be using the bridge once every few months. Thanks, big gubmint, for making me so generous.
Sepp
1 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2008
What gets me is that nothing in the makeup of the physical universe suggests that dimensions as we understand them have to be arranged in the cartesian x,y,z system. In other words, we could just as well have a,b,c,d four dimensions that are arranged according to a tetrahedral system. One would be as valid as the other.

http://www.hasslb...hy_6.htm

So what are the physicists really looking for?

Space has 'omnidirectional extension'. Dimensions are based on an arbitrary system, and the one we're using is not unique or necessarily the best one. There are no constraints of physical basics that would mandate dimensions except for our mathematical models which are a way we interpret physical universe reality.
fleem
1 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2008
Good points Sepp. Yes its true that "dimension" can mean a lot of things, where the broadest definition is simply "units"--even "degrees Kelvin" could be called a dimension. I tend to feel the word should mean at least that there is some transform between 3-space and the dimension in question. For example, time rotates into and out of 3-space with a relatively simple transform, albeit more complicated than a simple cartesian rotation.
superhuman
5 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2008
We use cartesian system for space cause its orthogonal and has the least number of dimensions sufficient to describe it.
Tetrahedral system has many drawbacks, for example a certain points (expect 0,0,0) have more then one representation in it. Another is that translations are complex to calculate in it.
manifespo
1 / 5 (1) Mar 11, 2008
I think the Omnidimension is the 5th dimension which is consciousness. Maybe I should be a physicist.
tomphys
not rated yet Mar 12, 2008
Psh at least half of these posts belong in the realm of philosophy.
Assuming this project fails to come up with some kind of evidence for additional dimensions-it is still a useful piece of kit. We have seen throughout history accidental discoveries made by equipment looking for other phenomena.

tomphys
not rated yet Mar 13, 2008
The reason i sasy the above is that you are all talking about definitions of dimension- its a word, not physics
Snukis
not rated yet Mar 14, 2008
"%u201CThe idea we%u2019re exploring is that the universe has an imperceptibly small dimension (about one billionth of a nanometer) in addition to the four that we know currently,%u201D Kavic said."
"Small dimension"! Can it possible to be so stupid? It's distinctly shows that Kavic graduate in stupidity not in physic or mathematic. The same about the professors what didn't knows what "dimension" means.

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