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Gizmorama - July 16, 2018

Good Morning,


Scientists at the SFIT (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) have created a new technique for "controlling the energy inside an atomic nucleus." This sounds dangerous, but interesting, nonetheless.

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

Until Next Time,
Erin


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*-- Ultrashort electron flashes offer new way to harvest nuclear energy --*

Scientists at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne have developed a new method for exciting and controlling the energy inside an atomic nucleus.

The new method relies on even more precise control of electrons by light. In the lab, researchers achieved coherent manipulation of free-electron wave function at an attosecond timescale. Their demonstrations suggest a similar level of control can be executed at a zeptosecond timescale.

To control the electron, scientist created an interaction between a free-electron wave function and light field created by two tiny light pulses. Scientists measured the amplitude and phase of the resulting electron wave function using ultrafast electron spectroscopy.

The breakthrough could be used to unleash and harvest the energy inside an atomic nucleus, paving the way for more efficient nuclear energy technologies.

"This breakthrough could allow physicists to increase the energy yield of nuclear reactions using coherent control methods, which relies on the manipulation of quantum interference effects with lasers and which has already advanced fields like spectroscopy, quantum information processing, and laser cooling," researchers wrote in a news release.

Earlier this year, scientists observed the excitation of an atom's nucleus caused by the nucleus' absorption of an electron, a process called "nuclear excitation by electron capture" -- the NEEC effect. The process had been theorized but never witnessed.

Scientists believe the process will inspire the next generation of nuclear energy-harvesting systems, and the latest breakthrough could aid their development. More precise electron-light manipulation could allow scientists coherent control over the NEEC effect.

"Ideally, one would like to induce instabilities in an otherwise stable or metastable nucleus to prompt energy-producing decays, or to generate radiation," said researcher Fabrizio Carbone. "However, accessing nuclei is difficult and energetically costly because of the protective shell of electrons surrounding it."

Carbone and his colleagues described their work this week in the journal Nature Communications.



*-- IceCube Neutrino Observatory traces ghost particle to distant galaxy --*

With the help of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica, astronomers have identified the origins of a cosmic neutrino, an elusive subatomic particle.

Neutrinos, sometimes called ghost particles, are electrically neutral and nearly massless, allowing them to travel through the cosmos for billions of light-years, passing unhindered through galaxies, stars, planets and dust. Though theorized for decades, scientists only began detecting them in 2013.

Until late last year, scientists weren't able to detect the source of the inbound neutrinos. But in September, an especially energetic neutrino collided with the tube-like detection instruments buried in the South Pole's ice.

With the help of Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the IceCube detectors, scientists were able to trace the neutrino to its likely origin, a blazar located 4.5 billion light-years away.

Scientists have long suspected that the high-powered ghost particles were associated with other high-energy phenomena. Some theorized neutrinos and galactic cosmic rays, beams of high-energy radiation, were produced by the same faraway phenomena.

When researchers pointed a variety of instruments in the direction from which the neutrino came, they located an extremely powerful blazar. They also found cosmic rays and gamma rays coming from the same place, confirming their suspicions.

"We have been looking for the sources of cosmic rays for more than a century, and we finally found one," Francis Halzen, lead scientist at the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told Space.com.

When researchers reexamined archival IceCube data, they found the high-energy neutrinos all seemed to be coming from the same place, the distant blazars. Scientists detailed their discovery in a pair of paper, both published this week in the journal Science.

A blazar is a distant galaxy revealed by the emissions of a supermassive black hole at its center. The squeezing of mass into the black hole's accretion disk can produce a variety of high-energy phenomena -- interactions powerful enough to rocket tiny particles billions of light-years across the cosmos.

But the link between neutrinos and the faraway blazar isn't a sure thing. Scientists say there is a one in 740 chance the blazar and neutrino connected by coincidence.

Still, astronomers are excited by the potential for a new field of astronomy -- neutrino astronomy. The research is also proof of the power of multimessenger astronomy. The breakthrough was made possible by the coordinated effort of several dozen telescopes and instruments.

Scientists expect future multimessenger astronomy surveys will offer even more precise neutrino observations. Combined with the study of light and gravitational waves, some astronomers believe the neutrino will be key in solving other mysterious of the universe.

"We've proven that neutrons are that third tool -- to better understand the wonderful and weird things that are out there," MIT physicist Lindley Winslow told Mashable.

***

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