An international team of scientists has discovered that when particle groups behave like a single entity, called quasiparticles, they behave in ways that seemingly defy the laws of physics, including traveling faster than the speed of light.
Harnessing the physics-defying properties of quasiparticles could lead to new super-bright light sources, potentially unlocking groundbreaking advancements in multiple industries and scientific research domains.
“The most fascinating aspect of quasiparticles is their ability to move in ways that would be disallowed by the laws of physics governing individual particles,” study co-author and senior scientist at the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester, Dr. John Palastro, said in a statement.
For decades, the scientific community has relied on devices like synchrotrons, cyclotrons, and linear accelerators to produce high-energy light sources to illuminate phenomena too minuscule for the naked eye or standard microscopes.
Using this technology, scientists can examine the structure of individual molecules, which plays an instrumental role in many fields, including medical imaging, radiotherapy, nuclear physics, material science, radiography, and semiconductor manufacturing.
However, these high-energy light sources take up considerable space. For example, the cyclotron at Canada’s national particle accelerator center, TRIUMF, measures nearly 60 feet across. These devices are also costly to build and operate. The average price for a medical cyclotron, used to produce radiopharmaceuticals for cancer diagnosis and treatment, runs around $1.5-3 million, with an additional $600,000 in annual operational costs.
In a paper published in Nature Photonics on October 19, researchers say quasiparticles could produce new, smaller, and more cost-effective light sources that equal the power of larger devices used today.
Using advanced simulations on supercomputers from the European High-Performance Computing Joint Undertaking (EuroHPC JU), the team delved into the nuances of quasiparticles’ behavior in plasma. Examining the results, researchers found that the collective movement of quasiparticles can travel in synchronized waves, creating effects similar to traveling faster than light.
“Because quasiparticles are a result of a collective behavior, there are no limits for its acceleration,” co-author and physicist at the Instituto Superior Técnico in Portugal, Dr. Jorge Vieira, told Gizmodo. “In principle, this acceleration could be as strong as in the vicinity of a black hole, for example.”
Researchers make it clear that these findings do not violate the universal speed limit, which holds that no single particle can travel faster than the speed of light, or roughly 186,000 miles per second.
“No individual particles are moving faster than the speed of light, but features in the collection of particles can and do,” Dr. Palastro explained.
Instead, these faster-than-light effects result from the collective particle wavelengths, which are larger than the quasiparticle itself.
“Even though each electron is performing relatively simple movements, the total radiation from all the electrons can mimic that of a particle moving faster than light or an oscillating particle, even though there isn’t a single electron locally that’s faster than light or an oscillating electron,” lead study author and physicist at the Instituto Superior Técnico, Dr. Bernardo Malaca, added.
Even if they aren’t technically defying the law of physics, researchers say the unique behavior of quasiparticles could pave the way for democratizing powerful light sources, making them widely accessible for many applications.
From scanning for viruses without destruction, comprehending intricate biological processes, fabricating advanced computer chips to investigating the mysteries of celestial bodies, the possibilities could be limitless if quasiparticles are proven to be an efficient way of producing light in compact settings.
“Quasiparticle-based light sources could have a distinct advantage over existing forms, like free electron lasers, which are scarce and massive, making them impractical for most laboratories, hospitals, and businesses,” a statement issued by the University of Rochester reads.
“With the theory proposed in the study, quasiparticles could produce incredibly bright light with just a tiny distance to travel, potentially sparking widespread scientific and technological advances in labs across the globe.”
As for what happens next, researchers note, “The simplicity of the quasiparticle approach makes it suitable for experimental demonstrations at existing laser and accelerator facilities and also extends well beyond this case to other scenarios such as nonlinear optical configurations.”
Tim McMillan is a retired law enforcement executive, investigative reporter and co-founder of The Debrief. His writing covers defense, national security, and the Intelligence Community. You can follow Tim on Twitter:@LtTimMcMillan. Tim can be reached by email: email@example.com or through encrypted email:LtTimMcMillan@protonmail.com