The wee electron has gotten its most thorough physical examination yet, and scientists report that it is almost, almost a perfect sphere. Researchers at Imperial College London have determined the electron is just 0.000000000000000000000000001 centimeter off from being perfectly round. Put another way, if the electron was magnified to the size of the solar system, it would deviate from immaculate rotundity by a magnitude equivalent to a human hair.
There are 26 zeroes after that decimal, in case you don't feel like squinting to count them out. The good news is that this shows our best theories of quantum electrodynamics are not totally off. The bad news is that scientists still don't know why everything exists.
This impressive precision is the result of experiments spanning more than a decade, using molecules of ytterbium fluoride. The research is published today in the journal Nature.Scientists at Imperial's Centre for Cold Matter used a special laser and watched the motion of the molecules' electrons. If the electrons were not perfectly round, their wobbling would distort the overall shape of the molecule.
"If the electron is not round, then when placed in the electric field, it will execute a gyrating motion, just like a spinning top," researcher Jony Hudson, a physicist at Imperial College London, said in an email. "We saw no evidence of this gyrating motion."
Scientists want to know whether the electron is round because of what it tells us about accepted theories of quantum electrodynamics, Hudson explained.
If the electron was oval-shaped instead of round, this would have suggested key differences between normal, everyday electrons and their antimatter alter egos, positrons. This could help explain why the universe has a preponderance of matter over antimatter, and therefore something rather than nothing.
As far as modern physics can tell us, the universe consisted of equal parts matter and antimatter right after the Big Bang, and the two opposites immediately started annihilating each other. Everything should have been canceled out, but stars, planets and people exist, so something happened to break the symmetry between antimatter and matter, allowing matter to permeate the cosmos.
"In order to explain the matter-antimatter imbalance, there probably needs to be some difference between the particles and anti-particles that we haven't observed yet. A non-round electron would be clear evidence for such a difference," Hudson said.
But it is round, so it looks like this physical difference is not the culprit. Experiments at the soon-to-be-shuttered Tevatron and the Large Hadron Collider will seek to figure this out in greater detail.
Still, it helps to get a handle on the size and appearance, as it were, of the smallest building blocks of our existence. For instance, last year, scientists led by Randolf Pohl of the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics in Garching, Germany, determined that the proton was four percent smaller than everyone thought. Better definitions of elementary particles help refine and bolster the best theories of quantum electrodynamics.
So why is the electron ever so slightly warped? It has to do with the interaction between electrons and clouds of other ephemeral matter.
"One of the things that quantum field theory has taught us is that what we call empty space is not really empty. Rather, the picture is that it is full of what physicists call 'virtual particles.' These are particles of matter and antimatter that spring in and out of existence fleetingly," Hudson explains. "Any 'real' matter, like the electron, drags around a cloud of these virtual particles with it."
Hudson and his colleagues actually measured the shape of the electron plus that little cloud. Interactions between the electron and the virtual particles result in that infinitesimally small distortion.
If the tiniest of tiny things is not perfectly round, can anything truly be a perfect sphere? Hudson said we can never know — we can just keep refining measurements to say, it is no more distorted than such-and-such. Perfect roundness is actually important for scientific experiments, such as the Gravity Probe B. The probe uses four gyroscopes made of quartz-silicon spheres that are in the Guinness Book of World Records for their flawlessness — but they are still just imperfect enough that scientists had to do a couple years of calculations to make sure their recently announced warped space-time measurements were correct.
Aside from its importance to our understanding of the fundamental properties of reality, the electron-measuring experiment could help build better atomic clocks, Hudson said.
"Our work draws heavily from that field, and vice versa many of our developments are useful to the clock makers," he said. It could also help simulate systems that are too complicated to study with current computers.
Not content with accuracy up to one octillionth of a centimeter, Hudson, co-author Edward Hinds and others at the Centre for Cold Matter are developing new methods that will improve their measurements even more. They are working on new ways to cool molecules to extremely cold temperatures and control their exact motion, which would be a major feat. Such technology could be used to control chemical reactions, for instance.
"These techniques that we have developed are quite general, and are finding application in many fields," Hudson said.
Of course electrons are perfect spheres...God made them. As for the deviation...the scientists need to calibrate their instruments.
@Aldrons Last Hope: Can't tell if trolling or just crazy religious...
-IMP ;) :)
How is that crazy? Or trolling? A higher being, a creator, God, whatever you want to call HIM, created this universe, from the brightest star right down to the perfect electron.
I wrote out a response to Aldron's Last Hope, but the spam filter blocked it.
PopSci, please introduce a simple verification system, where particular users' posts are reviewed and then the user is given the green light as a non-spam account. There aren't very many users on this site, it wouldn't be much work.
Short response to ALH: As a fellow believer, I find your statement to be arrogant and presumptuous. Stupid comments like yours only feed the hype that religion is anti-science.
Onihikage- As a fellow believer, I don't see why you are you calling his comment stupid? If you do believe, do you not believe that God created everything?
I don't think most of you are getting the point. This observation has nothing to do with proving that god created a perfect electron, rather all the evidence suggested were that we found that the electron is almost round and that there has to be something different about it that had left matter here over anti-matter.
As a matter of fact, ALH, I believe your comment was as that of Ptolemy's, it was wrong; we cannot close the books on understanding our universe with an arrogant comment like that, if you're right, you're right, however there is no evidence to produce from that which is why we must continue the investigation about the electron.
This article was interesting to read, you guys should also check out a book called "A new Kind Of Science". It suggests our universes complexity could be calculated with a very simple algorithm of that of a Mandelbrot Set.
Just a question about the article itself. How do we know that positrons are perfectly round? From what I can tell, there's been no similar measurement on positrons ( probably because they don't know how they could)
It would seem that the scientists at Imperial College are strongly taking sides in a debate that has been going on since before the time of Newton…the wave/particle duality question…that light or matter acts sometimes like a wave and sometimes like a particle. In Newton’s day it was about the nature of light. Louis de Broglie proposed in 1923 that matter also has a wave/particle duality. His theory was used to explain the results of the Davisson and Germer experiment that had to do with the diffraction of electrons in 1927.
There is a model in Quantum Mechanics that explains a particle as a travelling “Wave Packet” that is not round but can take on various shapes due to different experimental conditions. I would find it interesting to hear how the experimenters at Imperial Collage bring together this wave/particle duality and the Wave Packet model with their recent results.
@Aldrons Last Hope even from a "believers" point of view your comment is very ignorant and short sited! all things have their REASON!!! For all you know if it was 100% perfectly round it would loose ALL quantum properties it has and the entire universe would cease to exist.
What about PI????? It goes on for EVER! why is it not a round number???? I could list about six zillion billion examples!!! IMPERFECTION is what makes GOD'S creations so wonderful, amazing, and beautiful.
but I think you are just a troll. and even if you believe what you wrote, then you are just a real life troll (as opposed to a digital one).
honestly to think round numbers or perfect roundity = perfection? what a silly silly concept.
@ford2go to answer your question, its probabhly becuase positron are EXTREMELY short lived particles, just like antimatter. they are in essence anti-electrons. They are difficult to make as well. Electrons... are well... in the hundreds of billions and trillions x 10 to the 1000 quadrillion. and that's just in your finger tip. (that was just a rough estimate)
Popsci should really get a moderator to remove all the crazy religious and conspiracy theory garbage from the comment section. It is very annoying.
It is a curious to know how they actually measured the roundness of the electron. What is the standard they compare it too? It's seems the electron itself, could actually be the standard. And yet the Egyptians were so focus on making triangle Pyramids, huh? Seems the most perfect shape we have is the electron and it’s the one thing we use the most for power.
@inaka_Rob...show me proof of this assumption that if an electron is perfectly round it will lose all quantum properties...that's a huge reach.
I guess your definition of a troll is anyone that disagrees with a general consensus? So you are a rocker and go onto a hip-hop site a diss Drake..you would be a troll? Not someone with a different opinion? I would call you a sheep except for the part where you said "Imperfection is what makes God's creation so wonderful" I totally agree.
I fear that instead of opening lines of communication the internet is facilitating further fragmentation and a group think mentality. If one disagrees with a group, the sheep yell "troll"...pathetic, group think mob mentality.
Also they are only assuming the electron is round because of the electron's reactions to stimuli...they have not observed anything...just like the Higgs Boson...as long as it fits nicely into their theories. But okay I'll accept this one because it speaks to the perfection of God.
@Siromar...oh you want to censor people?? Friggin Nazi scum....please stay in Russia or China or where ever you are from. In the west we have freedom of speech and while it may annoy people. People have the right to speak their mind. You are a weak minded sheep.
I would happily censor your trash. This isn't public property, and you do not have any "speech" rights here. Go talk about your god's spherical perfection on some rapture-oriented website. This is a place to discuss science, not whatever crazy attention-seeking excrement you feel like spouting.
An electron can be perfect without being perfectly spherical.
you are right. a sphere isn't the only perfect shape. perfection does not necessarily equal god. for all we know "god" prefers to make non perfect stuff. the big bang wasnt a perfect explosion. maybe it even was an implosion?
@ Rod Avery: Yeah, I believe God made everything, but I don't even PRETEND to know the attributes of things in His creation. ALH made the assumptions that because God is perfect (true), round is perfect (false), and the creation is only made of perfect things (false - the Fall introduced entropy and imperfection), then electrons must therefore be perfectly round. This is absurd reasoning.
Unless there were something in the Bible saying, "Hey, God made everything out of these teeny little clusters of balls, and these clusters are surrounded by these even teenier balls that are like tiny pieces of lightning, and these teenier balls are absolutely perfectly round," it would be ludicrous to assume such a thing. Naturally, the Bible says no such thing, so we must rely on observational science in order to learn about the construction of the universe - in this case, the roundness of the common electron.
Aldrons Last Hope, don't resort to ad hominem attacks, they just anger your opponent and make you look like a jerk. This is how flame wars start.
Siromar, I'd like to apologize for the behavior of Aldrons Last Hope; reasonable Christians do not behave as he has. In the future, please try not to respond to attacks such as those from ALH. If you respond, you may begin a vicious cycle of more of the same that solves nothing and continues until one party relents or simply tires of it - for an example, look no further than the Jewish/Muslim conflict in the Middle East.
"No material shall be posted on or transmitted through the Community Areas which violates or infringes in any way upon the rights of others; which is unlawful, threatening, abusive, defamatory, invasive of privacy or publicity rights, vulgar, obscene, profane, indecent or otherwise objectionable; or which encourages conduct that would constitute a criminal offense, gives rise to civil liability or otherwise violates any law."
"No user may engage in conduct that, in the Company.s judgment, restricts or inhibits any other user from using or enjoying the Community Areas."
In other words, we can post what we want, as long as what we post does not violate the above rules. If you like, you could possibly report Aldrons Last Hope's comment for containing defamatory remarks towards you, as he clearly calls you "Nazi scum" and "a weak minded sheep." I would have reported it myself, but I think I'll give you the pleasure ;)
GOD creates perfect sphere, Can't create anything else as perfect.
**THIS JUST IN**
GOD searching for his creator siting Human knowledge that something cannot be created from nothing nor exist without being first created.
Playing Devil's Advocate since 1978
"The only constant in the universe is change"
-Heraclitus of Ephesus 535 BC - 475 BC
You misunderstand, we have no rights on this website except for those giving to us. They can choose to censor spam, or anything else, should they choose to. This is not the case with the American constitution, or those of many other nations, which are built on the philosophy of certain rights that people have regardless of laws and regulations of the time.
But I digress. I should not have taken the bait. I should have just ignored him.
The electron is actually the proton. There is a subspace logarithmic tetrahedral manifold whereby a sphere of radius proton wavelength/pi/5 touches the interior faces of the tetrahedron. Then a sphere of radius electron wavelength times the momentum of space sits on the edge of the tetrahedron tangent to the proton sphere.
Because this one particle comes into our dimension at separate positions, it appears to us as two separate particles. The electron rotates around the closed path in a clockwise path and then returns along the proton path in the counter-clockwise direction. Reflections are off the circumscribing sphere of the tetrahedron and Wheeler's two curvatures of space known as the rafter and the swing. This gives the electron and proton the same charge but of opposite polarity.
The accumulation of this geometry is what causes the vortex at +- 19.5 degrees latitude such as the Caribbean rock mantle vortex, the Red Eye of Jupiter, the volcano on Mars and the dark spots on Uranus and Neptune. These fractals then lead up to the Upper Tetrahedron which is the size of the universe. All the other upper tetrahedrons plus the black void into which these universes are expanding form the final fractal.
Communication with the upper tetrahedron is around 70.52 degrees which means that the next black void fractal level will be 90 degrees straight up.
The other interesting thing is the infinity sign which is made up of two circles comprising this geometry and all the physics constants.
stop feeding the trolls, if you respond to them youre just as bad as they are regardless of how much you feel the need to respond
but seriously, anyone know if any other particles are perfectly round too/
@onihikage please do not apologize on my behalf. I stand firm on everything I said. I find you to be confused. You are not worth my time so please do not converse with me.
@siromar..listen you troll.....I have speech rights where ever I am.....my rights are given to me by GOD, a fact that the founding fathers didn't overlook or fail to mention. You would like to censor me because you are a weak minded troll / sheep. I am not baiting you...I don't fish for guppies.
If the irregularities were put in comparision to the electron itself (electron size and irregularity), it would have been more interesting. But analogy was put as the comparision of earth with hair. If its so,why can't the electron be taken as perfectly spherical? But i am still skeptic about the accuracy of the experiment done.Accuracy to such an extent mean the technics, scientist has used to measure the electron is really mind blowing.But the stuffs like - matter has to be balanced by antimatter and since matter is prevalent, something must explain this- has to be experimentally verified.
If you want a discussion, ask. Otherwise I'll save you from the torment you so readily deserve
ALH wins the troll award of the decade!!!! lol i love it peopel bite so hard on the anti god comments.
"What about PI????? It goes on for EVER! why is it not a round number????"
Many numbers go on forever...
1/9th expressed in decimal form goes on forever: .11111111...
It is an artifact of our base 10 numeral system.
it is why .9999... (repeating "forever") is the same as "1"
1x = 0.9999...
10x = 9.9999...
10x - 1x = 9.999... - 0.999...
9x = 9
x = 1
If our numeral system was in "base PI", then PI wouldn't go on "forever"...
It's not magic, it's not "god", it's just your human brain coming up with it's own B.S. and then being amazed by it.
We came up with base 10 math, and we came up with the ratio of PI (circumference to diameter)... and we're the ones amazed that it happens to be an irrational number...
I'm not gonna engage your trollness, but will point out to others that "perfect circles" were once thought to be evidence that god created everything (back when people thought the planets in our solar system had perfectly circular orbits)... now it seems once again "perfect spheres" are somehow evidence for god's existence (and of course threatening when found not to exist).
If you want to believe in non-empirical stuff, go for it, just don't try to distort empirical reality to fit into your convoluted self-delusions about living happily ever after in a make-believe afterlife just so you can deal with the reality that you wasted your life on your knees for jesus when you could have been cutting your beard, eating shellfish, having sex before marriage, and doing the other thousands of things forbidden in the bible...
@B.V God is real only closed minded fools can't see that.
@B.V – Your posts, from what I’ve seen are always well thought out and level headed. And you usually make good points…but you just let your emotions get the best of you. LMAO
I don’t think I’ve ever seen you insult someone but to me you say I have “convoluted self-delusions” and that I’ve “wasted my life”. Looks like the shoe is on the other foot and you are the one “biting hard” now. I have not wasted my life. The way I pursue and what I consider happiness is for me to decide not you. I haven’t even lived ½ my life yet, maybe 1/3 if I live to 90. But already I’m content and happy. I’d rather go to church with my beautiful wife than to have random sex partners. I’d rather enjoy a simple meal with friends than be gluttonous pig stuffing my face with lobster. I’d rather help someone up than push them down (sometimes). Even though science dictates survival of the fittest I don’t take advantage of people though I am physically superior to most…and my conscience thanks me for it. And even when I fall into the worldly ways of anger and ego, my God forgives me….it’s a concept that is alien to you.
You slip up and make yourself look like a fool to assume you know what I think the “after-life is. Belief in a greater purpose is a very personal thing…because you can’t comprehend or reject it, don’t put others down..because like I said in an earlier post, the greatest scientists in our history had all had a belief in God..you are angry because they would agree with me in this debate not you. But you can if you can let go of your ego.
You are good at making well thought out points like what you said to Inka_Rob….but the personal attacks you make are sloppy and w/o any merit….stick to the former. I won’t hold this one against you.
-- James Ph. Kotsybar
An electron, so perfectly round
it could spin without wobble or sound,
was measured carefully
at fixed velocity,
but its position couldn’t be found.