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Gizmorama - April 17, 2017

Good Morning,

New research has allowed scientists to identify an unusual force acting on nanoparticles. No, this has nothing to do with 'Star Wars' or anything 'science fiction'; it's science fact!

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists identify unusual force acting on nanoparticles --*

Different sets of rules govern matter at different scales. As nanotechnologies becomes smaller, scientists are paying closer attention to the physical laws of infinitesimal scales.

Recently, physicists were able to measure the Casimir Effect, an unusual force acting on the smallest of particles. The force is created by interactions between the electromagnetic waves of particles in a vacuum.

Classical physics fails to account for the unique force. Instead, researchers relied on quantum field theory to interpret their observations.

"These studies are important because we are developing nanotechnologies where we're getting into distances and sizes that are so small that these types of forces can dominate everything else," Alejandro Manjavacas, a physics professor at the University of New Mexico, said in a news release. "We know these Casimir forces exist, so, what we're trying to do is figure out the overall impact they have on very small particles."

Through their research, Manjavacas and an international team of researchers were able to describe the Casimir Effect using an analogy between classical physics and quantum field theory.

The sea of photons inside the vacuum affect a spinning nanoparticle much the way friction affects a ball hitting another surface. The photons both slow the particle's spin and enact a later force on it -- only there is no actual contact between the photons and the nanoparticle.

"The nanoparticle experiences a lateral force as if it were in contact with the surface, even though is actually separated from it," said Manjavacas. "It's a strange reaction but one that may prove to have significant impact for engineers."

Experiments showed changes in the distance between a particle and the surface alter the strength and direction of the Casimir Effect. The new observations, detailed in the journal Physical Review Letters, could help scientists improve nanotechnologies for industries like healthcare and electronics.

*-- NASA's New Horizons spacecraft helps scientists measure brightness of the universe --*

Scientists have struggled to define the upper limit of the cosmic optical background, the total amount of light produced by all of the galaxies in the universe. But new observations from NASA's New Horizons spacecraft have allowed astronomers to place a ceiling on the measurement.

"Determining how much light comes from all the galaxies beyond our own Milky Way galaxy has been a stubborn challenge in observational astrophysics," Michael Zemcov, an assistant professor of astrophysics at the Rochester Institute of Technology, said in a news release.

The reflection of the sunlight off interplanetary space dust makes the task of measuring the cosmic optical background from Earth quite difficult.

The latest observations by New Horizons' Long Range Reconnaissance Imager, or LORRI instrument, suggests the outer regions of the solar system allow for more accurate measurements. Researchers detailed the findings in the journal Nature Communications.

"The study is proof that this kind of measurement is possible from the outer solar system, and that LORRI is capable of doing it," Zemcov said.

Spacecrafts traveling to the outer limits of the solar system are designed to study targets like planets, dwarf planets, moons, asteroids and comets, not to conduct astrophysics. But scientists hope future missions will include instruments for surveys of phenomena beyond the solar system.

"With a carefully designed survey, we should be able to produce a definitive measurement of the diffuse light in the local universe and a tight constraint on the light from galaxies in the optical wavebands," Zemcov said.


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