Physics News of the Week (January 27 – February 3)

| February 3, 2013 | 0 Comments


This week some truly remarkable discoveries were made and it’s time to overview them in another edition of the Physics News of the Week. As always, you can support us and get all the most important news to your email by registering to our email newsletter  which can be found here.

1) Scientists Create a Near-Living Crystal (January 31)

One of the biggest mysteries in both biology and chemistry is how billions of years ago chemicals formed life on Earth. And even though there is still no clear answer, scientists from the New York University  have made another step towards unlocking the great mystery. Jérémie Palacci, Paul Chaikin and their research group have created particles, which are described Jan. 31 in Science as forming “living crystals” in the right chemical conditions. Now, as the scientists themselves said, they created crystals that were active under certain conditions, but “there is a blurry frontier between active and alive.”

“Here we show that with a simple, synthetic active system, we can reproduce some features of living systems,” Palacci said. “I do not think this makes our systems alive, but it stresses the fact that the limit between the two is somewhat arbitrary.” To read the full report of this discovery head here.

Scientists are moving closer to the key of the mystery of life

2) A Real Maxwell’s Demon Might be Created from Two Quantum Dots (February 1)

Maxwell’s demon is named after the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who first considered the idea in the 1800s. He proposed that the demon would act as a doorman, allowing only hot (fast-moving) molecules to go one way and cold (slow-moving) molecules to go the other way. Theoretically, the demon would be able to heat a hot reservoir and cool down a cold reservoir. As long as the demon uses a sufficiently small amount of energy, the entropy that it creates will be less than the entropy of the system that it lowers. As a result, Maxwell’s demon violates the second law of thermodynamics. So far, however no one has been able to create a system that would act as described by Maxwell.

In a new study, Philipp Strasberg at the Institute of Technology in Berlin, and co-authors have proposed that Maxwell’s demon can be physically implemented with two interacting quantum dots connected to thermal reservoirs, where one dot takes the role of the demon and the other that of the controlled system. The experiment doesn’t violate the second law of thermodynamics, but it provides a very simple, minimalist implementation of the demon. Read the full article here.

3) Physicists Join Forces to Investigate the Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics (February 1)

A team of international researchers are looking to advance the theory of quantum mechanics, a notion challenged by Albert Einstein and pursued by many of the top scientific minds during the past century. The group will focus on proving the Bell inequalities by employing a “loophole-free test”.

Quantum theory (the Copenhagen interpretation to be more precise) states that there is no local realism. In other words, an object has no pre-existing values until that object is measured. Until then, there is only probability. The theory also suggests that a single measurement may affect two remote, distinct systems described by “entangled” quantum states. The phenomena of entanglement is not allowed by the general theory of relativity, which was one of the main reasons why Einstein believed that quantum theory is not complete.

Interestingly, entanglement has been shown to exist, however it was only demonstrated by using photons. Researchers began using photons in 1980s to test Bell’s theory and determine if Einstein’s reasoning is right or wrong. Since then, researchers have used various quantum states to test the theory but continued to have loopholes in their methods, therefore falling short of a definitive result. The new work by an international group of researchers, including Le Luo, Ph.D., who specializes in atomic physics and quantum optics, is aiming to develop a “loop-hole-free” method to test the Bell inequalities.

“This research is going to be conducted over much of the next five years or so,” Luo said. “If successful, this could have a major effect on exploring the fundamentals of quantum mechanics as well advancements in quantum information science, which will ultimately make information technology much more secure and efficient than it is today.” Read the full report here.

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