This Week in Physics: Controlling Lightning and Other Curiosities

| June 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

Quantum Theory: Einstein Saves the Quantum Cat (Jun 16)

Einstein’s theory of general relativity will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary. Even after all these years it still captures the imagination of scientists. Researchers have now discovered that this theory can explain yet another puzzling phenomenon: the transition from quantum behavior to our classical, everyday world.

The research team, headed by Caslav Brukner from the University of Vienna have recently discovered that gravitational time dilation also plays a major role in the demise of quantum effects. They calculated that time dilation on Earth can cause a suppression of the quantum behavior of composite quantum systems, such as molecules and even larger systems. Read the full story here.

Could We Control The Path of Lightning? (Jun 19)

Even though we can increase the probability of lightning striking at certain places (by using lightning rods for example), the chosen path of the strike is seemingly random. The same rules apply to electric discharge on smaller scales. Professor Roberto Morandotti and his colleagues have  recently discovered a way to guide electric discharges through a clever use of lasers.

Using the Advanced Laser Light Source (ALLS) facility, researchers from the INRS Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications research centre tackled this challenge, which had previously been the subject of intensive research, particularly in the 1970s. Electric arcs have long been used in such technologies as combustion engines, pollution control applications, lighting, machining and micromachining. With this recent discovery, new application will likely be developed soon.  Read more here.

Is Salt the Key to Unlocking the Interiors of Neptune and Uranus (Jun 23)

Even though we have acquired wast knowledge about the physical properties of the planets of the solar system, there are still many mysteries left to answer. For instance, according to our current understanding, the interiors of such planets as Neptune and Uranus are partially made up of a very special type of ice. Such ice, capable of existing under extreme pressures and high-temperatures, is also expected to be found in many exoplanets. So far such ice existing in such paradoxical conditions has been mostly a mystery to physicists.

New research from a team including Carnegie’s Alexander Goncharov focuses on the physics underlying the formation of the types of ice that are stable under the paradoxical-seeming conditions likely to be found in planetary interiors. Their work, published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could challenge current ideas about the physical properties found inside icy planetary bodies. The key to the mystery of how ice is capable of surviving such extreme conditions, according to the new research, is salt. Read more here.

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