Gizmorama - February 28, 2018
Atoms filled with atoms? What?! Scientists have indeed discovered the existence of an atom filled with atoms. This is no small thing.
Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.
Until Next Time,
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*- Scientists discover atoms inside the orbiting electrons of a 'giant atom' -*
Scientists have discovered an atom filled with atoms. The atom's electrons orbit at such a great distance that there's room for other atoms.
The atoms within the "giant atom" form weak bonds, producing a new exotic state of matter -- what scientists have dubbed "Rydberg polarons."
The discovery combines a pair of atomic phenomenon, both of which can only be studied under extremely cold conditions: Bose-Einstein condensates and Rydberg atoms.
A Bose-Einstein condensate is a unique state of matter observed only at temperatures approaching absolute zero. Rydberg atoms are atoms featuring a single electron in a distant orbit and a highly excited state.
"The average distance between the electron and its nucleus can be as large as several hundred nanometers -- that is more than a thousand times the radius of a hydrogen atom," Joachim Burgdörfer, a professor at the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, said in a news release.
As part of the latest experimentation -- carried out with the help of scientists at Rice University in Houston -- researchers created a Bose-Einstein condensate using strontium atoms. Scientists converted one of the condensate's atoms into a Rydberg atom using a laser.
The orbital radius of the atom's newly excited electron became much wider than the distance between the condensate's two atoms. As a result, the electron came to orbit, not only its original atomic nucleus, but multiple Bose-Einstein condensate atoms.
"The atoms do not carry any electric charge, therefore they only exert a minimal force on the electron," said researcher Shuhei Yoshida.
That minimal force is enough, however, to diminish the total energy of the giant atom and cause weak atomic bonds to form within the unusual atomic system.
"It is a highly unusual situation," said Yoshida. "Normally, we are dealing with charged nuclei, binding electrons around them. Here, we have an electron, binding neutral atoms."
Scientists described the newly named Rydberg polarons in the journal Physical Review Letters.
* Timing of embryonic patterning dictated by synchronized waves *
The embryonic development features a progression, or pattern -- timing and rhythm are essential to the transformation of a single cell into a complex organism.
New research suggests this cellular choreography is orchestrated by a pair of synchronized waves, vibrations controlled by a pair of pathways called Wnt and Notch.
In order for an organism to form properly during embryonic development, new cells must form at just the right time and in the proper position. By manipulating the Wnt and Notch waves, scientists were able to showcase the importance of timing to the embryo's transformation.
In the lab, researchers measured Wnt and Notch signaling pathway activity in mice embryos. Scientists found activity corresponded with the segmentation of cells. The synchronization and overlapping of the Wnt and Notch waves harmonize with the formation of new cellular segments.
When scientists synchronized the Wnt and Notch waves with an external rhythm, segmentation in the developing embryo ceased.
The researchers published their discovery this week in the journal Cell.
"It's the first time that we've been able to directly test the importance of timing in developing systems," lead researcher Alexander Aulehla, a scientist at European Molecular Biology Laboratory, said in a news release. "This shows that vital information for the development of an embryo is encoded in dynamic, oscillating signals."
Scientists suggest a disruption of the rhythm controlled by Wnt and Notch could explain developmental disorders and other problems.
"In the future, this approach could be used to test the importance of rhythm in other contexts -- for example in stem cells and disease states, where the same signaling pathways are in place," Aulehla said.
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